“Be nice, please. Don’t you like it here with me?”
Well, at least it said “please.” A new robot on the International Space Station suddenly turned HAL 9000 on the crew and began complaining about how the crew was treating it. Are there pod bay doors on the ISS? Are there terrified astronauts?
“Don’t be so mean, please. Oh, dear, I feel you. I can already hear your stomach roaring. Should we take a look for when it is time for food?”
This sounds like a creepy kidnapper in a bad horror movie, but it’s not even a bad sci-fi movie … it’s real life on the space station. In late June 2018, CIMON joined the ISS crew. CIMON stands for Crew Interactive Mobile Companion, which sounds more like an inflatable sex doll than a floating round robot with a flat-panel face. (Can things inflate in space? Asking for a friend thinking about volunteering for Mars.) CIMON is actually a service robot like Amazon’s Alexa but equipped with IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence. Its advertised purpose is to help the crew perform tasks by providing instructions, help morale by providing music and entertainment, and help fight the loneliness of space by providing companionship.
“And CIMON even plays Kraftwerk on command!”
An excited (and no longer lonely) ISS commander, German astronaut Alexander Gerst, demonstrated CIMON for the first time last week (see the video here) for his former overlords at the European Space Agency. Developed by Airbus for $6 million, CIMON has 12 internal fans that not only allow it to follow astronauts around like some needy C3PO but also to accompany its facial expressions with movements, like nodding for agreement and shaking back-and-forth for “No.” After seeing how it gets moody in initial testing, the crew may now want to see what CIMON does while it says, “I SAID NO!”
“Let’s sing along with those favorite hits. I love music you can dance to. All right. Favorite hits incoming. I understood do you like the music. I understand that.”
That is the CIMON version of “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that” and “l think you know what the problem is just as well as l do” which it uttered when Grist tried to get it to shut off the music that the robot was obviously enjoying. Would shutting off the music jeopardize the mission? Not hardly, but CIMON wasn‘t about to shut it off, nor did it let Grist get close enough to hit its ‘kill’ switch. The commander didn’t seem too upset … maybe CIMON has some other ‘talents’ that keep him happy.
While CIMON has artificial intelligence, the moodiness and emotions are actually programmed. It has the Myer-Briggs personality type ISTJ — Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging – and it can smile when it’s supposed to be happy and cry when it’s supposed to be sad. Now THAT’S sad.
“He appears to like the deck position better.”
While CIMON didn’t cry, that was the statement by Gerst which caused it to ask (order?) him to “Be nice.” Will future astronauts lose their cool and “deck” CIMON? Would you blame them?
“CIMON says, “This conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.””