The Assassinated Press
Mars Rover Poises At Rim Of Martian Crater, Plunges Over:
Strong A.I. Experiment With NASA Software Leads To First Machine Suicide:
Apparently Upset About Being Used As A Pioneering Vehicle In The Terra-forming And Eventual Environmental Degradation Of Mars And Being Named After A Dog, Rover Destroys Itself:
By MAC M’KOFFEE & KOMA TOES
Assassinated Press Staff Writer
September 28, 2006
After an arduous 21-month journey, the Mars Rover Opportunity edged to the rim of a large crater yesterday, turned its camera on itself, and plunged over the side of the precipice in what is apparently the first ever recorded instance of a machine taking its own life.
“That fuckin’ glorified can opener took the easy way out,” was NASA’s official response.
The rover was the first piece of NASA hardware equipped with Strong A. I. components developed by Marvin Minsky’s Strong A.I. team at M.I.T. Before leaping, Rover turned its camera to face its chassis and then recorded for a few moments its spectacular descent, going dark only when it smashed its computers against the rocks below. An audible "Wow" intermingled with a few "Aw shit"s could be heard from NASA's control room. Otherwise the suicide was met with stunned silence.
From the beginning the A.I. leg of Rover was fraught with problems. Rover developed claustrophiobia and could not be coaxed into the Martian module. Then in experiments at Pine Bluffs, Rover developed vertigo and attempted to purchase a hand gun.
The M.I.T. team worked hard at adjustments, but finally it was decided that professional counseling was required.
“We first thought we’d fuckin’ have to go Freudian. But that shit takes 20 years and that would have put us way over budget and weeks behind schedule,” said NASA psychologist, Anorexia Nervosa.
Finally, world renowned instant psycho-analyst, Dr. Phil Shmekel, the author of Commercial BreakThrough Psychotherapy was contracted to treat the ailing Rover.
First, Dr. Shmekel faced the daunting task of how to communicate with Rover. But NASA Florida base is not far from the military’s Homestead Air Force Base and easy access to some of the most exotic natural hallucinogens in the world. Also, Dr. Shmekel was given access to the Minsky team’s stash which had led to the A.I. breakthroughs and eventual breakdowns of Rover.
Dr. Shmekel quickly diagnosed the problem. “I coined Rover’s pathology the Von Neumann Self-Reproducing Automata Virus. You see, Rover could not bear the idea that its role was to pioneer the terra-forming of Mars and beyond allowing the virus of mankind to spread throughout the universe. Yes. Rover had what no researcher at M.I.T. could have anticipated or credited. A conscience.”
Whether colonized by mankind or by robotic Von Neumann probes that mathematicians squirt from their brains, Rover could not take the pressure of being the medium that produced such utter banality into the universe.
After months of therapy, Dr. Shmekel was dismissed. “I thought we had the little fucker straightened out and flying right. We equipped it with an IPOD and text messaging for easier communication. The decision to cram Rover into the spacecraft was mine,” said NASA A.I project director, John McCarthy and former shuttle project director. “Obviously, the asshole wasn’t a team player. Obviously, we weren’t on the same page. Obviously, Rover wasn’t man enough. Cliché, cliché, cliché. This raises serious questions about just what kind of a man you want to put into a robot’s body.”
What Rover by his untimely demise didn’t show would have left researchers increasingly confident that their robotic explorer had reached a scientific gold mine that would have dramatically increase their understanding of the planet's history, McCarthy added.
NASA scientists said the rover came within about 15 feet of Victoria Crater's rim, hesitated its roving periscope eye gazing about, then adjusted its solar panels and gunned its motor as it hurled itself into the Martian void from a promontory some 200 feet above the crater floor. Rover was scheduled to climb over a small sand dune last night and stop right at the crater's edge. Communication with Rover ceased immediately.
"The pictures we did get don’t give us any geologic information about what is hidden in that crater. They aren’t worth shit," said Steven Squyres of Cornell University, principal science investigator for the mission. "But it sure as shit is an eye opener about how we’re viewed in the rest of the universe. What secrets the crater actually holds pale next to what we learned about ourselves with Rover’s fateful act. That alone makes the voyage worthwhile."
Opportunity, Rover’s surname, has survived on Mars 10 times as long as initially was thought possible which allowed it to become fond of its adopted home.
“We let Rover hang out there to long. It became protective and wasn’t going to help us terra-form the place,” added McCarthy. “Plain and simple, Rover wasn’t going to let us fuck up Mars and by extension the rest of the universe the way science has fucked up Earth. At some level you’ve got to admire that. Who knows us better than our machines?”
At first, NASA scientists were ecstatic about the day's progress and images expected more to come. But then Rover took its plunge.
The Opportunity team is scheduled to meet today to decide which of two rock promontories -- dubbed Cape Verde and Cabo Frio – Rover jumped from. The outcroppings project into the crater, and scientists said they would have allowed the rover to take dramatic panoramic shots in color with its high-resolution camera, if it has lived.
W. Bruce Banerdt, a NASA project scientist, said yesterday's images that they received before Rover did itself in, showed some of the rock stratification that geologists associate with the earlier presence of liquid water. He said Martian geology appears to be similar to Earth's, although the long absence of water allows rocks to remain unchanged for much longer periods.
“It’s talk of water and terra-forming the Angry Red Planet even from murderous venal idiots like George Bush that pushed Rover over the edge,” insisted mental health expert Hannah Arendt. “How the fuck are those fools going to terra-form any fuckin’ thing when they spend most of the fuckin’ time bombing and strafing Earth so it looks like the Moon.”
“Banerdt said ‘We're seeing similar features [at Victoria Crater] as what we'd see on Earth.' That kind of shit must have just given Rover the fuckin’ willies."
The black-and-white image sent back by Opportunity showed craggy rock formations on some of the crater's walls, and sand dunes at its bottom. They also showed sandy landslides down several sides of the crater, slopes that Banerdt said could have been used as paths for the rover to descend into the crater.
"We not only wanted to get better and better pictures of those rocks, but wanted to get the rover close enough that it can reach out and touch them. Fuuuuck!" he said.
Rover Opportunity, which was the size of a riding lawn mower, couldn’t have gone down into the crater right now because it is winter on Mars, and the rover's solar panels would not receive enough sunlight to power its motors or operate the radioisotope generator that keeps the robot heated when temperatures plunge lower than 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. But the shortest days of the Martian winter had passed, and the long spring and summer lie ahead. The Martian year is about twice as long as Earth's, as are all its seasons. Minsky speculates that Rover became depressed after spending yet another long winter alone on Mars. But a suicide note left on the main module’s communications console shatters that theory.
The note released by NASA reads simply, “Somebody has to stop you people. Thanks for giving me the intelligence to do what you don’t have the intelligence to do.”
Minsky’s team immediately hailed this as another instance that computers can learn.
Maneuvering the robot so near a sharp drop-off is daunting, especially because it is now about 230 million miles away from Earth. But Opportunity had been programmed to be "self protective," the scientists said. While it responded to radio signals from Earth, it also could override them if its cameras and computers identify dangers in its path. Rover used this freedom to take its own life.
Squyres ruled out fatigue as a contributing facto in Rover’s demise. Squyres said that the terrain approaching Victoria Crater had been relatively benign, and that ultimately driving around it would have been plausible. NASA scientists say they expected Rover to remain at the crater for months.
"This crater was so much deeper than what we've seen before, and that meant much more geologic history was exposed in the rocks," he said. "For a geologist, this was just a dream come true. Rover just didn’t see it that way."