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Meet CIMON, the International Space Station’s latest recruit

Last week, the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) welcomed their latest ‘colleague’ aboard – a chap by the name of CIMON.

No, he’s not some pretentious douche who only goes by a mononym, CIMON is in fact a piece of advanced artifical intelligence, officially known as Crew Interacitve MObile companioN.

According to NASA, CIMON – created by Airbus and powered by IBM’s Watson AI, – has headed to the ISS as “a technology demonstration project, and an observational study, that aims to obtain the first insights into the effects on crew support by an artificial intelligence (AI), in terms of efficiency and acceptance during long-term missions in space”.

Basically, CIMON has gone up to offer a bit of help to the astronauts, with NASA hoping to gauge just how receptive humans really are towards receiving a bit of friendly advice from what is an animated algorithm while they are under the constant stress and physical strain of being in space.

However, Airbus is keen to make it sound far more positive than an experiment to see whether their invention pissed people off.

“In short, CIMON will be the first AI-based mission and flight assistance system,” said Manfred Jaumann, Airbus’ Head of Microgravity Payloads.

“We are the first company in Europe to carry a free flyer, a kind of flying brain, to the ISS and to develop artificial intelligence for the crew on board the space station.”

Naturally, comparisons to the villainous HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey have been flowing – aided by the fact HAL’s name also comes from a somewhat clumsy acronym (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) and that HAL was a none-too-subtle dig at IBM (with each letter of HAL’s name preceding that of the computer company: H(I), A(B), L(M).

But the face and physical presence of CIMON gives it a far more obvious resemblance to GERTY from Duncan Jones’ awesome 2009 flick Moon.

(Of course, that the kindly GERTY was voiced by Kevin Spacey makes the whole thing very confusing.)

All that said, Airbus have revealed that while CIMON was inspired by a piece of sci-fi tech, it was neither HAL nor GERTY – it was a character from the 1940s comic ‘Captain Future’, which was based in the then-distant future of 1990.

“There was a little flying brain called Professor Simon, and that’s where it actually comes from,” Matthias Biniok of IBM, one of CIMON’s designers, said.

Regardless of CIMON’s inspiration, the tech is the first piece of AI to be sent into space, bringing together two of humankind’s most important areas of study.

About the author

Joe was Junior Vice-President at Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net until it was bought out by Bill Gates. He now subedits for Conversant Media and considers it a step up.

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