NASA is set to begin work next month in Boston on a four-year, $US1.74 million project called the Virtual Space Station. The project is supposed to create a program that can independently counsel depressed astronauts by supplying solutions to their typed insecurities. AP writer Jay Lindsay insists that it's nothing like HAL 9000, and he's totally right: that was a movie, and this is terrifyingly real.
In the program, astronauts type their various psychological problems into a console, and a pre-recorded video therapist leads the astronaut through a series of likely solutions. The robot "helps astronauts identify reasons for their depression. Then the program helps them make a plan to fight the depression."
I know you're thinking "well, this is for astronauts, and lucky me, I'm totally unqualified for that kind of job. So I'm safe!" No such luck: the Virtual Space Station is not only being tested on civilians, but the designers hope it will become a widespread tool among those for whom a real, non-robot therapist isn't an option.
The biggest problem, aside from the robot gaining independent thought and slaughtering everyone in sight, is privacy. There isn't much guarantee that the astronaut's interactions will be kept secret, and in fact it seems a pretty likely guess that they'll be analysed extensively. My biggest concern is that a scary robot will know about my intense fear of clowns and that weird dream I have about my third-grade teacher. [AP]