This spherical robot is an AI assistant for the International Space Station

This spherical robot is an AI assistant for the International Space Station

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Astronauts are being asked to put aside thoughts of HAL 9000 and experiment with a floating digital helper.

Say hello to CIMON: That’s “crew interactive mobile companion,” if you aren’t on first-name terms. Built by Airbus, it’s meant to float around the International Space Station, where it will be tested between June and October 2018, to help astronaut Alexander Gerst do his work. Think of it as Space Alexa. A very round Space Alexa.

Vital stats: CIMON is the size of a medicine ball and weighs about 11 pounds. It runs a version of IBM’s Watson AI, which has been trained to recognize Gerst’s voice and appearance; it will offer up help to the astronaut while he performs some experiments aboard the space station.

Why it matters: Airbus says that over time, CIMON will be used to understand how social dynamics in small groups are affected by the presence of an AI assistant. Just don’t tell Gerst about the plot of 2001: A Space Odyssey.