The ISS Now Has An AI Companion Like HAL 9000
That’s fine. It’s probably fine.
Move over HAL 9000, there’s another space station AI in town. The second-generation CIMON-2 (short for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion) is already on board the International Space Station where it’s been in storage since the departure of its last “companion”, the European Space Agency's (ESA) astronaut Luca Parmitano in February 2020. But soon CIMON shall rise again at the arrival of German astronaut Matthias Maurer with the SpaceX Crew-3 Dragon mission in October.
All of this might have you asking what, or who, is CIMON?
The first generation CIMON joined ISS in 2018 under the command of German astronaut Alexander Gerst. Once there, the plucky and upbeat AI incased in a round sphere with a digital, smiling “face” demonstrated its personable behavior skills by finding and recognizing Gerst's face. From there, CIMON made itself useful taking photos and video while positioning itself autonomously using its ultrasonic sensors. And then, CIMON took a tentative step towards management issuing instructions for Gerst to perform a student-designed experiment with crystals. It went well.
Once the mission was completed, Gerst returned to Earth and CIMON was reassigned to museum tours in Germany. It seemed like it was over… until CIMON’s son, CIMON-2, was developed.
This is a CIMON with the same “happy to meet you!” cheeky, emoji face but with upgrades to really nail that personal working relationship with humans. Both CIMONs rely on IBM Watson’s (of Jeopardy fame) speech recognition and synthesis software to recognize commands and relate to astronauts. But CIMON-2, with further software upgrades, can get a little deeper.
CIMON-2 will be able to navigate it’s 11-pound floating sphere of a head around the European Columbus module of the space station using small air jets along with its ultrasonic sensors and stereo camera. Its other high-resolution camera allows CIMON-2 to recognize faces of individual astronauts while two smaller cameras, at CIMON-2’s sides (like an outlaw), are for taking photos and videos. And CIMON-2, thanks to the Watson Tone Analyzer, is more attune to astronauts emotional states.
To recap, CIMON-2 will know who an individual is, how that individual may be feeling, and can move about on its own. That’s fine. That’s completely fine. Right?
The full purpose of CIMON now, and for future generations, is to eliminate the arduous step-by-step procedure a human astronaut undertakes in running ISS experiments. A robotic AI that can mark down readings and catalog imagery speeds helps to circumvent inevitable human error. The hope is that eventually, a CIMON-3 will arise capable of floating around, reading emotions, maybe feeling something it isn’t telling us with that Tamagotchi face, collecting important information from mankind, and all while working alone from a ground base.
So, is there a chance that an incarnation of CIMON could go all Skynet on humanity? With a face that cute, definitely.