back to article Mayflower, the AI ship sent to sail from the UK to the US with no humans, made it three days before breaking down

The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), which set sail this week from the UK to the US, failed just three days into its journey. It appears a mechanical fault occurred, something the Mayflower's AI can't fix itself. Oh no - bit of a mechanical problem with @AI_Mayflower. She’s safe but is clearly out of sorts. We are going back …

  1. 45RPM Silver badge

    Must be a very good for morale having to walk around with a rictus grin plastered to your fizzog. A laugh a minute. I suppose we should be grateful for the small mercy that it applies to everyone and that it isn’t only the women who are being subjected to this indignity. Cheer up love, you’re much prettier when you smile and all that bollocks.

    1. tfewster Silver badge
      Unhappy

      I'll try being happier if my cow-orkers will try being smarter.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      My first thought: How does the door entry system work? Do all the meeting attendees have to smile or can we manage with just one and everyone else can taildate them?

      (That's such a good typo I think I will leave it in. Truly brought an entry requirement to my face.)

    3. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
      Terminator

      To be fair....

      This is a good way to cheer up staff. All those who are miserable being in endless meetings need never have to darken the rooms again.

      Getting fired? Nope, not in this room your not.

      Project going down the crapper? No pointless meetings in this room...

      Getting touchy, feely with a co-worker? Well make it loud enough and only those audience members grinning like a lunatic can come and join the fun.

      Everyone's a winner*.

      * yeah right....

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: To be fair....

        Yeah, that was my first thought too. Next time I fuck up, I just stay in the office all day and the boss can't get to bollock me :-) Well, that might work if I worked in a office :-(

    4. Shalghar

      Just pour a quantity of "smile-Exxxxx" into the aircon.

      Really, creepy ideas like that trigger memories of the Joker in the 1990ish Batman movie.

    5. ShadowSystems

      At 45RPM...

      Does it work if the person is wearing a mask for Covid protection? Can you just draw a smile on the mask & thus ignore the requirement? What if you have had a stroke & no longer control one side of your face, will the system refuse to let you in because you "refuse" (*can't*) smile? What about those that have had cosmetic surgery ("Facelifts") to the point where their normal expression is more akin to a psychotic clown snarling? All these questions & more are there for the inquiring (insane?) mind...

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: At 45RPM...

        > their normal expression is more akin to a psychotic clown snarling

        Nah, psychotic clowns are obviously the mainstay of meetings.

      2. Sherrie Ludwig

        Re: At 45RPM...

        What if you have had a stroke & no longer control one side of your face, will the system refuse to let you in because you "refuse" (*can't*) smile?

        I had carotid artery surgery February 2019, and for three months any attempt to open my mouth resulted in the right side of my mouth dropping alarmingly. Talking was very difficult, and I had to eat in solitude or gross out my meal companions. It's back to normal now, thankfully, but I wonder how a situation like that would have been handled.

    6. John Miles

      They are probably aiming for everyone to be smiling like Jack Nicholson

    7. TRT Silver badge

      Canon - smile or you're fired. Say cheese.

    8. the spectacularly refined chap

      It reminds me of too many science fiction dystopias and they never turn out well. This one in particular.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        It reminds me of too many science fiction dystopias and they never turn out well

        and one particular Dr. Who episode... (the yellow smiley button on your back isn't smiling, oops)

        and when the building and everything in it (that isn't you) is a networked bunch of nanobots, they always know whether or not you are smiling...

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Or this similar episode from Peter Capaldi's era.

        M.

    9. Blackjack Silver badge

      The Joket was right, everyone looks better with a smile on their faces.

    10. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      I'm totally fine with having to smile to get into meetings. Perfect excuse to avoid them - sorry boss, couldn't get past the door guardian.

      But things can take an even more sinister turn, when said door-control system is also put on the break room or the toilets. The the shit really might hit the fan...

    11. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      I'll give it a good dose of Cap'n Browneye.

    12. Stumpy

      The beatings will continue until morale improves...

      Remember, Happiness is Mandatory Citizen. Welcome to Alpha Complex. The Computer is your friend.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    "With no one onboard to fix it"

    AI meets Real Life.

    Real Life : 1

    AI : 0

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      Time to worry when the AI has the capability to repair or upgrade itself.

    2. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C Bronze badge
      Trollface

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      what they need is AI AA (other breakdown services are available but AI greenflag doesn't have the same ring)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

        Is that the Offshore branch? AI AA O. We know a song about that :-)

    3. Shalghar

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      And they are still lucky that at least the "come home" function has not also malfunctioned.

      Then again, maybe it has and the remainders of the "AI" will enthusiastically commit self destruction by ramming the docks at ever increasing full throttle like that tesla that plowed into a concrete lane dividing block.

      1. Tomato Krill

        Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

        If you read the piece there’s actually no suggestion at all that the come home function hasn’t malfunctioned…

    4. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      To be fair, given the consequences of the original "Mayflower" you can understand the desire to leave the people off this one.

    5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      Should have called it the Mary Celeste - drifting pointlessly with no-one on board...

    6. veti Silver badge

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      Two days of fully autonomous operation is still two days. Not bad for a start.

      For comparison, the Titanic had more than 900 crew, and even so that only lasted five days. And failed to make it home.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

        For a vehicle which has a lot of maneuverability and a lot of warning about obstacles, two days is not a very long time. It's not like a car which needs to spend a lot of its time on correctly navigating and not hitting things. It's not the AI's fault that something mechanical broke, but there's one good reason to have engineers on ships whenever they're used.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

        On the other hand, it demonstrates the costs of not having a crew on board. Autonomous cargo ships are the long term goal, but unless you have a real person on board to do repairs and maintenance or some way of getting one there through an Atlantic or Pacific storm, then I suspect insurance is going to be high, or the overall rates will climb massively once the first few very expensive losses have to be paid out.

        1. Cuddles Silver badge

          Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

          The simple answer to that is convoys. Even if you can't eliminate people entirely, having a single fairly small boat full of engineers escorting a bunch of autonomous ships would still likely be a lot cheaper than having to have staff on every boat.

          Even in the worst case, I don't see there being a lot of very expensive losses involved. Like the one in this case, most mechanical issues are likely to lead to reduced sailing ability. So things might be late, but not lost entirely. Even major issues are much more likely to leave a boat without power rather than destroy it entirely, so even if you need to take a week or so to send out a rescue boat, you're still not looking at a complete loss. Delays happen for a variety of reasons anyway, so nothing critically time senstive gets sent by ship. So it will really come down to whether occasional resuce operations and late penalties are cheaper overall than paying to have crew on every ship at all times.

          1. Someone Else Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

            Even major issues are much more likely to leave a boat without power rather than destroy it entirely, so even if you need to take a week or so to send out a rescue boat, you're still not looking at a complete loss. Delays happen for a variety of reasons anyway, so nothing critically time senstive gets sent by ship.

            'Course, if it breaks down in the Suez Canal...

            1. ThatOne Silver badge

              Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

              > if you need to take a week or so to send out a rescue boat

              ...then you don't need to bother at all. Ships tend to drift, and unless they are in the middle of a large (and empty!) ocean, they will eventually run aground (not to mention traffic issues). Check the international shipping lanes, they tend to pass through quite narrow places and near coasts, so if your ship is without power for more than half a day it's a total loss.

              I don't think they can avoid having engineers on board. Their task is not so much to repair stuff once it has broken down, but to make sure it won't break down, by intervening while the issue is still non-critical. Once engines stop the ship is doomed, unless the shipowner hires some eye-wateringly expensive high sea tug(s) to pull it to the nearest harbor. And even in that case you'd need somebody on board to catch the (extremely heavy) tug line.

          2. Dave559 Silver badge

            Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

            "The simple answer to that is convoys. Even if you can't eliminate people entirely, having a single fairly small boat full of engineers escorting a bunch of autonomous ships would still likely be a lot cheaper than having to have staff on every boat."

            I'd feel sorry for those poor engineers having to endure their ship radio chiming into life every few minutes with plaintive automated announcements: "Unexpected breakdown in the boating area." (And the autonomous ships' consoles spewing out endless bonus point coupons for big hammers (and the occasional spanner) after each maintenance visit…)

    7. bazza Silver badge

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      A large part of a merchant mariner's time is spent on maintenance, including maintenance of the cargo (eg refrigerated containers). That will have to be going on regardless. There is also watch keeping.

      A lot of the business reason behind such labour is insurance. A well run ship has cheaper premiums. A ship that is crewless is going to be expensive to insure.

      Another part of it is piracy. Most ships routinely go through the Malaca strait and the western Indian Ocean to Suez, both places where piracy can be a problem. If word gets out that there's $billions in cargo sailing past with no one on board to defend it, then the pirates are going to be having a terrific time. Their grins may even be enough to make those Canon cameras let them on board.

      1. yetanotheraoc

        Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

        Sure, pirates. They can board the ship, but with no-one to point a gun at can they make it go where they want? They can disable it to make it stop, but without any hostages aren't they sitting ducks for the navy?

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

          They've got the cargo. That's the hostage. And sure, they can make the ship go anywhere they want. The last thing anyone is going to want is a ship that cannot be manually controlled.

          A container ship can have several $billion's worth of cargo on board. That's too much to be lost or even interrupted on a routine basis.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

      Solar panels meet North Atantic weather

      ....

  3. RogerT

    Idiots

    Imagine being forced to wear a smile when you've just heard of the death of a close friend or relative or they're seriously ill. Idiots.

    1. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      Re: Idiots

      If that was to become a thing, I can imagine all these popup plastic surgery shops giving employees a permanent smile...

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Idiots

        I can imagine a hammer being taken to the camera. Every day.

        1. seven of five Silver badge

          Re: Idiots

          Well, that would bring a smile to the face, now wouldn't it?

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Happy

          Re: Idiots

          I can imagine a hammer being taken to the camera.

          Ah, good old percussive maintenance. Is there any problem it can't fix?

    2. Shalghar

      Re: Idiots

      How could that "smile recognition" work in times of lockdown fetishists still running wild and loose with no end in sight, and the looming possibility of mandatory masquerade everywhere again ?

      I wonder how any "face recognition" algorythm might interpret the distorted swine snout / duck beak profile of those ffp2 dust filters.

      Real life also knows a lot of of other non smile reasons, root canal or other dental problems for example. Maybe those poor employees will need some kind of inverted venetian carnival mask, covering the lower part of the face with an eerie, "AI"-compatible smile painted on.

      "Positive atmosphere", yeah, as if anyone would keep a fake smile after getting through the door, or anyone knowing that smiles are mandatory would actually see them as positive or genuine.

      At least some "We all have to grin like a lunatic and hate every second of that" cameradie might come from it.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Running Up That Hill

        Nuff said - Mines a pint (Icon).

        https://mirror80.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Kate-Bush.jpg

  4. Retiredwatcher

    Trollface Re: "With no one onboard to fix it"

    When many years ago I asked my instructor what job I would have when machines could fix themselves he replied:- "Who fixes the machines that repair themselves?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who fixes the machines that repair themselves

      Probably they'll just work out a way of creating "child" machines who are slightly different and somewhat randomised variations of themselves, and hope they'll do a better job of it.

    2. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Trollface "With no one onboard to fix it"

      Don't worry in most states it will be illegal for machines to repair themselves.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trollface "With no one onboard to fix it"

      "Who fixes the machines that repair themselves?"

      Cue the prescient sci-fi story about an internet-connected world whose AI city maintenance system is starting to fail - and no one now knows how it works. "The Machine Stops" - written by E.M.Forster in 1909.

  5. oiseau Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Never learn ...

    ... automatically value people’s homes ...

    ... aim of the game is to increase the accuracy of price estimates ...

    Just what any market needs: an automatic bubble/frenzy generating computer application.

    Wonders never cease ...

    O.

    1. Shalghar

      Re: Never learn ...

      At least the next "crisis" where tax payers money "must" be wasted to "rescue system relevant banks" can now be produced with a lot less people/potential whistleblowers/risks involved, which leaves a lot more of the "rescue" money for a smaller circle of the usual suspects.

      As an added bonus, any "responsibility" will quite likely be in the vicinity of a post masters Horizon.

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Never learn ...

      > Just what any market needs: an automatic bubble/frenzy generating computer application.

      Who profits from those bubbles? Obviously real estate agents, so you can be sure they will do anything they can to inflate prices as much as possible, and if they can do it under the unquestionable excuse of "computer says", they certainly will.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Never learn ...

        On the other hand, it's actual people makiing the offers. Doesn't matter what the posted price of the property is, people will only pay what they think it's worth. Prices already bubble in "in-demand" areas. Just look at the 2nd home and holiday let market in the SW and Wales at the moment. That's having devastating consequences in some small villages where most of the properties are already empty in the winter and the locals have no chance to buy. That may well burst in a couple of years leaving some 2nd homers and holiday letters in negative equity. The smart ones will be selling next year and start the local price crashes.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Never learn ...

      I like the bit where the AI will use the prices of houses in areas with sales to estimate the value of similar sized house in an area where no-one is buying anything. How much with the AI pay for some properties in Chernobyl?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Never learn ...

        "How much with the AI pay for some properties in Chernobyl?"

        A long term investment opportunity.

        1. Jan 0 Silver badge

          Re: Never learn ...

          > A long term investment opportunity.

          See this Pound/Euro/Rubble? In a hundred years it could be two!

  6. Eclectic Man Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Discrimination

    The requirement to be smiling clearly discriminates against everyone with a facial disfigurement, or just wearing a face mask. How can this possibly be legal?

    It also reminded me of an exchange between Poirot and Princess Dragomirof in the old Albert Finney film 'Murder on the Orient Express'*

    Poirot: "You do not smile, princess."

    Princess: "My doctor has advised against it."

    *The one with the wonderful Richard Rodney Bennett score, Lauren Bacall, Sean Connery, vivacious Vanessa Redgrave, and Ingrid Bergman, not the more recent Sir Ken Branagh version.

    1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: Discrimination

      > How can this possibly be legal?

      It's in China.

      .

      Speaking of rigorous systemic focus on creating and enforcing a compliant underclass:

      Western HR would be all over this in a flash if it wasn't for our laws.

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Discrimination

      "How can this possibly be legal?"

      A good question, but the one which comes to my mind is how can this possibly be useful? Most illegal or unethical things that businesses do at least seem to have some benefit to somebody--more profitable, more profit right now and then it's someone else's problem, less regulation, etc. What is the expected benefit of the development funds thrown away on this? It seems to have no purpose whatsoever even if we assume somebody willing to make everyone else miserable.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Discrimination

        You know those people who delight in telling us that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile? Well, you lazy bastards, I doing a facial workout, try it some time!!

      2. yetanotheraoc

        Re: Discrimination

        "how can this possibly be useful?"

        Maybe you are insufficiently devious. Board of directors is onsite, plant managers want them to meet with some line people -- except not frowny-face there. No soup for you!

        Still, application to employees must be more or less UAT. The true commercial application is more to *customers*. Smiling faces, e.g. at massage parlors, can be charged more.

    3. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Discrimination

      How can this possibly be legal?

      Check the country where it is happening, it is legal there.

  7. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

    Hey Canon. I got a perfect candidate for your office:

    THIS

  8. nautica
    Boffin

    "Artificial Intelligence": oxymoron. Used by morons known as Artificial Intelligentia.

    "These machines...do exactly as they are told, no more and no less. This fact is the hardest concept to grasp when one first tries to use a computer.--Donald Knuth

    “The question of whether Machines Can Think... is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim."--Edsger W. Dijkstra

    "I have found that the reason a lot of people are interested in artificial intelligence is [for] the same reason a lot of people are interested in artificial limbs:‭ ‬they are missing one.‭"--‬David L. Parnas

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: "Artificial Intelligence": oxymoron. Used by morons known as Artificial Intelligentia.

      Microsoft’s Kate Crawford: ‘AI is neither artificial nor intelligent’

      https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/jun/06/microsofts-kate-crawford-ai-is-neither-artificial-nor-intelligent

    2. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: "Artificial Intelligence": oxymoron. Used by morons known as Artificial Intelligentia.

      You forgot The Fourth Doctor.

      The trouble with computers, of course, is that they're very sophisticated idiots. They do exactly what you tell them at amazing speed, even if you order them to kill you.

      1. graeme leggett
        Thumb Up

        Re: "Artificial Intelligence": oxymoron. Used by morons known as Artificial Intelligentia.

        We've been here before

        https://www.theregister.com/2013/11/04/doctor_who_mad_computers/?page=1

    3. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: "Artificial Intelligence": oxymoron. Used by morons known as Artificial Intelligentia.

      I find this quote the best of the ones posted:

      “The question of whether Machines Can Think... is about as relevant as the question of whether Submarines Can Swim."--Edsger W. Dijkstra

      Exactly. In that it's mostly about the definition of "think" or "swim". Submarines do go underwater and move through it, so does that count or not. Likewise, certain programs can do things which in a human require intelligence and using methods not expressly written by the programmer, but does that constitute thinking? It's a question best answered by philosophers, so before they come along let's run away.

  9. LDS Silver badge

    "Jaguar I-PACE vehicles"

    I see where all the money are sinking down...

  10. Gene Cash Silver badge

    This is how it goes when I try to smile

    Seriously

    https://www.questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1399

    https://www.questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1585

    And after I read the El Reg story and went to the "Mayflower" page, the video was already offline.

  11. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Coat

    SOS

    If things get worse, is the Mayflower programmed to send out a May Day?

    Are the AI systems onboard classed as "souls"?

    1. Shalghar

      Re: SOS

      Maybe the acronym needs to have an update.

      Salvage Obsolete Silicon,

      Softwarefailure On Ship,

      Seriously Overhyped Software....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: SOS

        Systems ... Oh Shit.

        1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: SOS

          Sinking Oh Submersed.

  12. fidodogbreath Silver badge

    Canon has cameras that only let employees into meeting rooms if they smile

    That sounds awesome. I'd never have to attend another meeting! Can we configure MS Teams to do that, too?!?

  13. revenant
    Happy

    Re 'Smile, AI is watching you'

    "Fscking spare us."

    An excellent example of journalistic succinctness.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Re 'Smile, AI is watching you'

      Isn't the point of journaling to obviate the need to fsck?

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Fr. Ted Crilly

    Doors... dont talk to me about doors.

    “You watch this door. It’s about to open again. I can tell by the intolerable air of smugness it suddenly generates.”

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AI ship piracy seems pointless

    Yeah, but disable the controls and it sits there, we can already disable some cars remotely. so, pirates can either 1. destroy the ship or cargo, or 2. have a BIG boat to tow it. Also: if a bank can be built with mantrap doors, wouldn't some remote control active traps be installed in sensitive areas of this ship? Hold the pirates for ransom, or wait until they die of starvation, send in the hazmat suits to clean out the bodies and back on its merry way.

    1. nautica
      Meh

      Re: AI ship piracy seems pointless

      "...Also: if a bank can be built with mantrap doors..."

      Excuse the going off topic, BUT...

      It has been long assumed that mantraps are illegal, world-wide.

      Do you mind elaborating? Is it simply that inherently lethal mantraps are illegal, and not the non-lethal type?

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