AI to Steer Ship Following Mayflower's Lead

Anniversary commemorations to be high-tech and inclusive
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 16, 2020 7:45 PM CDT
AI to Steer Ship Following Mayflower's Lead
The Mayflower Autonomous Ship will re-create the original Mayflower's journey, with a few differences.   (AP Photo/Susie Blann)

With a splash of Plymouth gin, the US ambassador to Britain officially launched a ship named Mayflower on Wednesday, 400 years to the day after a wooden vessel with that name sailed from an English port and changed the history of two continents. Unlike the merchant ship that carried a group of European Puritan settlers to a new life across the Atlantic Ocean in 1620, the Mayflower christened by Ambassador Robert Wood Johnson has no crew or passengers. It will cross the sea powered by sun and wind, and steered by artificial intelligence, the AP reports. Johnson said the high-tech ship, developed by UK-based marine research organization ProMare and US tech giant IBM, showed that "the pioneering spirit of the Mayflower really lives on" in the trans-Atlantic partnership. "We're heading out with the same spirit of adventure and determination and vision for the future" as the original colonists, the American diplomat said at the ceremony in England.

Like the Mayflower in 1620, the new vessel will travel from Plymouth, England, to Plymouth, Massachusetts, but on a marine research trip. The coronavirus pandemic has delayed its trip until the spring of 2021; the launch is part of Mayflower commemorations disrupted by the pandemic. They involve British, Americans, and Dutch institutions—many 17th-century Pilgrims had fled England for Holland in the years before the voyage—and the Wampanoag people, who lived for millennia in what is now New England. In 1620, the Wampanoag helped the exhausted Mayflower settlers survive their first winter. But colonial expansion, conflict and new diseases soon had a devastating impact on the indigenous peoples. Wampanoag stories have been marginalized on past Mayflower anniversaries, but they are playing a big part in events and exhibitions this time. "It's going a long way to lend balance to this story," said Paula Peters, a Wampanoag writer and educator.

(More Plymouth stories.)

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