The saddest new high-tech idea I've seen so far this year, via ACM's TechNews service, is this story in Information Week: Military Hoping Chat Bots Will Replace Deployed Parents.
"The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, everyday topics," the solicitation says. "For instance, a child may get a response from saying, 'I love you,' or 'I miss you,' or 'Good night mommy/daddy.'
This is a technologically challenging application because it relies on the ability to have convincing voice-recognition, artificial intelligence, and the ability to easily and inexpensively develop a customized application tailored to a specific parent."
While Skype or similar technologies might seem like a more cost-effective and immediately available solution, Defense rejects that possibility, noting in a Q&A posted below the solicitation that the purpose of the project is to help children cope with the absence of a parent when Internet and phone communication are not an option.
I'm not saying this is a bad idea. Anything that can comfort a child when his or her parent can't is, in my book, a good thing, especially when the child may be aware that mom or dad is in a dangerous and scary place.
What makes me sad is the realization that the obvious next step for this technology is for situations where the parent is really and truly unable to talk, now or ever, by any means whatsoever. In wartime it's not uncommon for soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen/women to die. Once it exists, this chat bot is a logical solution when a real human known to and trusted by the child is unavailable to provide comfort and solace.
I'm not saying that this is a bad idea either. I'm just sad to think that such a technology may be needed, especially in light of our government's recent penchant for pre-emptive warmaking with flimsy justification. Hopefully we'll be finding our way toward the moral high ground in the future, and those who must make the ultimate sacrifice for our country will be doing so in a higher and more just cause. Even in the current circumstance, the men and women of our military have my deepest respect, admiration, and support, and I salute them. It's the leadership who is to blame.
However sad the context, the fruits of this project will be a salutary application of agent-oriented architecture. It will, if successful, have many applications in healthcare, within and outside of the military context.