Celebration of the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day AI-powered moonshots: Meet the astronauts

18 May 2018 02:00h

Event report

In his introduction to the session, Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General of the ITU) highlighted the ITU’s connection to space and the relevance of space for telecommunications, and expressed the ITU’s commitment to opening new opportunities for space exploration. He quoted Valentine Tereshkova, the first woman in space, who said that ‘a bird cannot fly with one wing only’ and reminded the audience of the Chinese saying that women hold up half the sky. Thus, he stressed that the active participation of women is needed in space exploration.

The first speaker, Ms Anousheh Ansari (Member & Chair of Management, ​XPRIZE Foundation Board of Directors, Space Ambassador), shared her very personal experience of becoming the first female private space explorer. As a young girl growing up in Iran, becoming an astronaut seemed impossible. Yet, after successfully selling her own company and starting to work with the XPrize Foundation, she fulfilled her dream by going to the International Space Station. In her speech, she also stressed the importance of democratising space, a key aim of the XPrize Foundation.

Ms Liu Yang (Pilot, Astronau​t, and first Chinese woman in space) reflected on her own experience of becoming an astronaut and working on the Chinese space station, Tiangong-1. She argued that artificial intelligence (AI) is crucial for anticipating developments in space and supporting future (human) missions. While the essence of human space exploration will be improved through AI, the human astronaut can never be replaced.

Ms Samantha Cristoforetti (Astronaut, Pilot, and first Italian woman in space​) shared her childhood experience and journey to becoming an astronaut. She then added reflections on AI and space exploration and stressed that ‘AI is pervasive in everything we do in space’. She mentioned for example satellite data and that European Space Agency is interested in leveraging the potential of AI to make this data more usable. She also pointed out that robotic precursor missions will precede human missions to the moon and eventually to Mars.

All three women were presented with the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day Award by Zhao. In addition, Zhao awarded an ITU 50-year medal for his contribution to the ITU to Dr Marko Jagodic.