Most of us probably have a vision of how “The Robots” will eventually rise up and deal humanity out of the game. We’ve all seen that movie, of course, and know exactly what will happen when SkyNet becomes self-aware. But for those of you thinking we’ll get off relatively easy with a quick nuclear armageddon, we’re sorry to bear the news that AI seems to have other plans for us, at least if this report of dodgy AI-generated mushroom foraging manuals is any indication. It seems that Amazon is filled with publications these days that do a pretty good job of looking like they’re written by human subject matter experts, but are actually written by ChatGPT or similar tools. That may not be such a big deal when the subject matter concerns stamp collecting or needlepoint, but when it concerns differentiating edible fungi from toxic ones, that’s a different matter. The classic example is the Death Cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) which varies quite a bit in identifying characteristics like color and size, enough so that it’s often tough for expert mycologists to tell it apart from its edible cousins. Trouble is, when half a Death Cap contains enough toxin to kill an adult human, the margin for error is much narrower than what AI is likely to include in a foraging manual. So maybe that’s AI’s grand plan for humanity — just give us all really bad advice and let Darwin take care of the rest.
The recent news that Russia’s Luna 25 Moon lander had made an unexpected lithobraking detour into the Moon’s surface, rather than the expected soft touchdown was met by a variety of responses, ranging from dismay to outright glee, much of it on account of current geopolitical considerations. Yet politics aside, the failure of this mission casts another shadow on the prospects of Russia’s attempts to revive the Soviet space program after a string of failures, including its ill-fated Mars 96 and Fobos-Grunt Mars missions, the latter of which also destroyed China’s first Mars orbiter (Yinghuo-1) and ignited China’s independent Mars program.
To this day, only three nations have managed to land on the Moon in a controlled fashion: the US, China, and the Soviet Union. India may soon join this illustrious list if its Chandrayaan-3 mission’s Vikram lander dodges the many pitfalls of soft touchdowns on the Moon’s surface. While Roscosmos has already started internal investigation, it does cast significant doubt on the viability of the Russian Luna-Glob (‘Lunar Sphere’) lunar exploration program.
Will Russia manage to pick up where the Soviet Union left off in 1976 with the Luna 24 lunar sample return mission?