This dinner-napkin sketch of neural nets may sound relatively simple, but in practice, these artificial brains can perform some astoundingly complex logic. In fact, Ayanna calls neural nets a "black-box technology" -- in other words, what happens between the input layer and the output layer is often so difficult to decipher that scientists just treat it as a "black box" that somehow converts inputs into outputs.
By combining these two technologies, Ayanna and her colleagues at JPL hope to create a robot "brain" that can learn on its own how to expertly traverse the alien terrains of other planets.
Such a brainy 'bot might sound more like the science fiction fantasies of children's comics than a real NASA project, but Ayanna thinks the sci-fi flavour of the project contributes to its importance for space exploration.
Ayanna -- who wanted to be television's "Bionic Woman" when she was young, and later decided she wanted to try to build her instead -- says she believes that the flights of imagination common in childhood translate into adult scientific achievement.