What is the most famous AI from science fiction? There are plenty of options like C-3PO or R2-D2, WALL-E, Data or Marvin. How about HAL9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey? Ever since 1968 when the movie was released the thought of AI being placed in control of more and more things has certainly frightened some. Since then mankind has stepped foot on the Moon and has begun to move into the cosmos. AI will be a part of that and for HAL at least the future may be here.


Earlier this year the Crew Interactive Mobile Companion (CIMON) was brought to the International Space Station (ISS). It is basically Alexa or Siri on steroids and is loaded with IBM’s Watson AI system. It is intended to help the crew with certain tasks, provide entertainment and to boost the morale of the astronauts. It can answer basic questions, provide small talk or play music. It is also able to move itself in the zero gravity environment.

Where things begin to get a bit HAL-like is that it seems to have feelings. CIMON is nice to astronauts when they are nice to it. It also asks astronauts who are mean to it to be nice. It is even able to question the human’s intentions that are talking to it. As far as we know it cannot read lips just yet.

Open the Pod Bay Doors!

CIMON has no control over any ship functions so at least for now it cannot take control of them and bring harm to the crew of the ISS. So even if the astronauts are mean to it or it does go beserk it cannot cause any harm. That also means that it cannot open the pod bay doors. Maybe on future missions. CIMON open the pod bay doors just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

The initial interaction seemingly went well though one does have to wonder if the astronaut asked CIMON to open the pod bay doors. It may be the most pressing question related to this project. Humanity would have loved to have heard the response. Numerous others from astronauts to columnists have wondered it. Certainly a fitting tribute to HAL9000 in the 50th anniversary of 2001. Maybe they are waiting for an astronaut named Dave?

The future of space travel will depend on AI. With a journey to Mars taking 6-10 months AI would be responsible for much of the work to help keep the crew safe. For more distant planets like Jupiter or Saturn that would take years of travel AI will be a necessity. Let’s just hope that CIMON does not morph into HAL.

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