Thursday, March 2, 2017

2017-03-02: Autonomy Incubator Launches Facebook Page

After years of bringing autonomy research to the people through an ever-expanding suite of social media platforms– Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and of course, this blog– the Ai is thrilled to announce that we finally have a Facebook page. It took years of waiting and building our presence, but we're approved and fully operational!

Of course, with this excellent news, now might be a good time to explore why the Autonomy Incubator puts such unprecedented effort into maintaining an internet presence in the first place. We have a full-time intern (sometimes a staff of interns) dedicated to keeping the public informed about day-to-day operations at the Ai, when most labs might have a Twitter page at most. From my perspective, social media forms a vital part of the Ai's mission as an autonomy lab. How? I'm so glad you asked.

Dr. Danette Allen, the head and founder of the Ai, often says that the our purpose here is, "To enable new missions in science, space, and aeronautics through reliable autonomous operations and human-machine teaming." Essentially, we're developing autonomous robots with the intention that these intelligent machines will someday become a positive part of everyday, civilian life. They'll deliver our packages, they'll find our lost hikers, they'll join our scientific research teams– if we, as a human race, let them. Autonomous machines can only help us as much as we're willing to allow them to help, and therein lies one of the largest problems in autonomy.

People outside of the tech community are often still wary of "artificial intelligence," mostly because of the media surrounding the issue. When I tell people about where I work, a lot of them say something like "So, you're making SKYNET," or "Oh my god, have you seen Black Mirror?" Intelligent machines have a way of capturing the more fearful parts of our imagination, as harbingers of a future marred by our own hubris. A harrowing vision, but one that's difficult to reconcile with the happy little drone that I played keep-away with in our flight range yesterday.

A post shared by NASA's Autonomy Incubator (@autonomyincubator) on

Here's the thing: machines are not inherently evil. Actually, they're pretty great! The capabilities that the Ai and labs like us are developing could vastly improve quality of life for everyone, but not if we're too scared to use them once they arrive. Emerson once wrote, "Knowledge is the antidote to fear." In the technology age, social media is the most effective way to administer treatment.

Through the Ai's social media presences, we're constantly giving the public insights into what we're doing and how we're doing it– breaking down concepts like deep learning and GPS-denied navigation in a way that's accessible to everyone, especially those outside of the tech world.  I focus on writing every blog, caption, and tweet in the clearest language possible so that anyone who comes across us can instantly know what we're doing and, hopefully, want to learn more. We've had some success reaching the average American through our existing platforms, but now that we're on Facebook, our content just became easier to share than ever before.

As we celebrate this new facet of bringing autonomy and humanity together, we–I – profoundly appreciate your support. Every like, follow, and share we get puts our stories in front of new people, and our circle of light spreads just a little further. Thank you for helping us make the future possible.

– Abigail "Abbey" Hartley, NASA LaRC Ai Social Media Intern

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