Sentient Interstellar Probes
The Breakthrough Starshot Initiative (BSI) is an ambitious program to send thousands of gram-scale “nanocraft” space probes to nearby stars and their planetary systems at about 20 percent of the speed of light within a few decades by combining advances in microelectronics, nanotechnology, and photonics (lasers). These interstellar missions will necessarily be fundamentally and fully autonomous and thus are likely to require advanced artificial intelligence technology, possibly including self-aware synthetic minds.
Inspired and motivated by the BSI, we will explore a set of issues and questions concerning both the likely role of AI in that project and in future space exploration and travel in general. These will range from technical issues associated with the requirements of implementing appropriate AIs within the stringent mass and power limits imposed by the BSI mission architecture to philosophical and ethical issues arising from employing a synthetic awarenesses for the risk-laden task of interstellar travel. Beyond the BSI itself, we will revisit the old debates about manned versus robotic space exploration in the context of modern and projected AI technology. Will machine-based AIs be better equipped to explore and potentially even occupy the Galaxy than biological intelligences? It may turn out that the stars will belong to humanity’s non-biological descendants.
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