Astronauts who thought they’d escaped the worst qualities of people on Earth will soon be visited by IBM’s newest robot companion, an 11-pound robot equipped with the same software that helped defeat two Jeopardy! champions.
In June, German astronaut Alexander Gerst will bring along the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion — or CIMON — when he rockets up to the International Space Station.
Once there, CIMON will become part of the team by assisting in various crystal experiments and solving Rubik’s Cube puzzles with Gerst. The ultimate hope is for the AI to “learn” how to better assist astronauts in their daily tasks. It’ll also be tasked with gauging astronauts’ overall wellbeing by following them around day and night.
“Social interaction between people and machines, between astronauts and assistance systems equipped with emotional intelligence, could play an important role in the success of long-term missions,” a spokesperson for Airbus, which partnered with IBM to develop CIMON, said in a statement.
According to IBM, CIMON has already been trained to learn complicated experiments on board the ISS, some of which include more than 100 steps.
“This collegial ‘working relationship’ facilitates how astronauts work through their prescribed checklists of experiments, now entering into a genuine dialogue with their interactive assistant,” IBM writes in a press release. “The developers responsible for CIMON predict that this will help reduce astronauts’ stress and at the same time improve efficiency.”
It all sounds great, except for the fact that regrettably, CIMON has a very dumb face. Its Mona Lisa smile hides something sinister behind its friendly facade, like if Hal-9000 dressed as a Furby.
Besides looking like a smug basketball, CIMON sounds like an insufferable nerd. The AI uses IBM’s Watson technology to talk to astronauts and maneuver its way around the space station. Watson is the same software that famously triumphed over Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in 2011, so it goes without saying this thing is pretty smart. Of course, we’d never tell CIMON that, because its ego shouldn’t exceed more than 11 pounds.
CIMON’s sojourn above the ISS will end in October, which gives it plenty of time to gather tons of dirt on various astronauts. We can only hope this clingy robot — solely tasked with keeping astronauts happy and well — doesn’t drive everyone into madness.