Monday, October 27, 2008

Dr. Computer

Space can be pretty taxing on the mind and emotions. Out there, you’re separated from your loved ones, you’re under constant pressure to perform, and after a few weeks of low-water space showers, any sort of romantic entanglements are an exercise in smell suppression. Which is why NASA and other researchers are working on ways to provide all the benefits of an expensive human psychoanalyst in an even more expensive computer. As part of the ongoing research project known as the Virtual Space Station, scientists are developing an artificial intelligence program to simulate a therapy session for psychologically strained astronauts. From the description, it sounds like a glorified chat program. Astronauts tell the computer their problems, and the computer uses problem-solving treatment to discover the root of the astronaut’s problems. Then, the computer offers a series of exercises and plans to deal with these problems. But this isn’t just going to be blinking text on a screen. The virtual therapist will present itself as a video recording. If I were an astronaut, I’d want my shrink to look like Dr. Katz. More details here.

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