NASA pledges responsible use of artificial intelligence

NASA says AI, if used responsibly, has the potential to drive innovative missions and even change the world.
The NASA moon rocket rolls back to the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center
Posted at 5:31 PM, May 22, 2024

Artificial intelligence is getting more attention these days, but when it comes to science and space exploration, NASA says it's been using AI for years.

"When used right, AI accelerates the pace of discovery," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Wednesday at an agency town hall in Washington, DC.

The space agency says AI helps do things faster and better than humans can, analyzing huge amounts of data and images, studying the sun and Earth, even searching for exo-planets in distant galaxies where there might be alien life.

"Of the ways we've used AI, one is to track wildfire smoke, so we can teach the computer this is what smoke from a wildfire looks like and then look through all of our satellite imagery and find other wildfire smoke and track that," said NASA Chief Scientist Kate Calvin.

But with AI advancing so quickly, the Biden administration is looking to establish a new set of AI guardrails inside federal agencies, including NASA, to protect from potential risks.

David Salvagnini, NASA chief artificial intelligence officer.

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"If it's employed in ways that are not for the betterment of humankind, then it could be disastrous," Nelson said.

NASA has just appointed its first chief AI officer, David Salvagnini, who insists AI is a tool for humans, not a replacement.

"AI has been around for years, but AI has also changed dramatically in the last 12 to 18 months," Salvagnini said. "This is assistive technology, and we're not outsourcing our thinking to the AI. We're applying judgment and using it as data points to enable us to make the decisions."

NASA says AI, if used responsibly, has the potential to drive innovative missions and even change the world.

"But if we don't manage it responsibly," said NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, "we're going to open ourselves up to a world of risk that jeopardizes our credibility and our mission."