What's the next frontier for retired NASA astronaut twins Scott Kelly, who spent nearly a year consecutively in space; and his brother Mark, who flew multiple times on the space shuttle? It looks like a foray into artificial intelligence, using Amazon's popular Alexa answering program.
In teasers for an upcoming Amazon Beta Testing Program Super Bowl commercial, the Kelly twins posted their brief spot on Twitter today (Jan. 25). It shows a camera placed inside what appears to be a box, opening up to reveal the brothers' inquisitive-looking faces. [Twins In Space: Astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly in Photos]
The two former NASA astronauts gaze at the screen, and each other, while backdropped by a view of a corridor in the International Space Station. It's unclear how they got there — Is it a green screen? A model? Virtual reality? Inquiring minds want to know.
In any case, the Kelly brothers return the greeting with a cheerful "Hello." The screen goes black and shows the release date "2.3.19." That happens to be the date for Super Bowl LIII between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. So, we'll know more in just a couple of weeks.
"I’ve spent 520 days in space. I think I can handle this @Amazon. #AskAlexa #ad," Scott Kelly wrote along with the posting. Mark's comments were: "Navy, NASA, and now the @Amazon Beta Testing Program. Sign me up. #AskAlexa #ad"
Other space-themed celebrities got in on the action as well on YouTube: Forest Whitaker (one of the stars of the 2016 blockbuster "Arrival") listens carefully to Alexa and says, "Weird." Famous "Blade Runner" star Harrison Ford — who also played the "Star Wars" Millennium Falcon pilot Han Solo — is more cynical: "I hate this already."
Amazon is coy on what exactly this "beta testing" involves. Unhelpfully, the web page about the program only has this to say about it: "The Amazon Beta Testing Program is a top secret division of Amazon which employs celebrities to test Alexa-enabled technologies such as sub-aquatic audio waveform resonance, interspecies language translation, and voice-controlled body de-stressers."
It all sounds a little technical and confusing, to be honest, but Amazon promises us more clarity on Feb. 3 when more "declassified testing footage" is released.
In December, Amazon announced it plans to beta test Alexa Answers, which is a program accessible by invite only. The goal is for users to provide answers that used to stump Alexa, such as "Where was the world's largest wave surfed?" and "Where was Barbara Bush buried?"
"It's a little odd since most of the questions they list as examples seem as though they'd have straight answers that Alexa can find through its Bing-powered knowledge graph, which collects information from various sources," the Verge wrote. "Still, the launch of the Answers beta program means that Amazon is thinking about other ways to make sure Alexa serves up more accurate answers than Wikipedia pages, which have a reputation of landing voice assistants in hot water for sourcing vandalized pages."
If you have any theories about how the Kelly brothers got "inside" the International Space Station, do let us know in the comments. All we know for sure is there are only three astronauts up there, and the Kellys — who both retired several years ago — are not one of them.