A woman, but a humanoid, but only built from the waist up will be making her way to outer space in the Gaganyaan mission to test the crew module to ensure that it is fit for the astronauts who will use it in 2022. The Indian Express reported, “Attaining launch and orbital postures, responding to the environment, generating warnings, replacing carbon dioxide canisters, operating switches, monitoring of the crew module, receiving voice commands, responding via speech (bilingual) are the functions listed for the humanoid.” Building a humanoid isn’t a novel idea, however, building one to look like a woman is a problem when ISRO is not planning to add any women or one woman in the Gaganyaan mission. Moreover, it seems to be saying that the only fit Indian woman to become an astronaut is a humanoid one.
This humanoid Vyomitra is falling into the all too familiar trap of the all-female virtual assistants
Dressed far from what an astronaut would sport while in a spacecraft, some have said that she looks more like an air-hostess, the question remains, why did ISRO design the robot as a woman, when they could have easily made it gender-neutral? If they are trying to be aspirational, they might as well employ more women on the tea than design fake women. “ISRO is simply continuing its inexplicable tradition of sending mixed signals: celebrating women on ‘happy’ occasions but sidelining them in controversial times, prudently cashing in on the hype when the going is good, and withdrawing into a shell and fronting The Man when the going gets tough,” said The Wire. However, it does seem that this humanoid Vyomitra is falling into the all too familiar trap of the all-female virtual assistants; women can only assist because men do the “real” work. UNESCO’s director Saniye Guler Corat once said, “The world needs to pay much closer attention to how, when and whether AI technologies are gendered and, crucially, who is gendering them.” Vyomitra is taking “Alexa” to a whole new level here where she will make sure that the all-male crew will be safe and return home sound.
Why is a female robot only a helper, while men do the “real work”?
Furthermore, ISRO keeps on referring the humanoid as a woman, as if she can easily replace a real Indian woman astronaut. However, it really looks like she will. Financial Express revealed that her functions include giving “inputs the spacecraft’s health during the launch, landing and orbital phases. Apart from this, Vyommitra will also report on the changes that take place in the crew module during the flight and while returning. These inputs would enable ISRO to ensure that the crew module is safe to fly a human astronaut… Other functions that Vyomamitra can perform include responding to the environment, attaining launch and orbital postures, generating warnings, monitoring the crew module, replacing carbon dioxide canisters, receiving voice commands, and responding via speech.” Although this is a huge leap for robotics in India, an area in which the country has been lagging behind in when compared to China, it does not mean that one has to always create a woman-humanoid as a helper almost every single time and this is happening both in the developed and the developing world. Why do tech creators only see women as secretaries and assistants, but nothing more?
Image credit: New York Post