Living, working, and sleeping in small spaces next to the same people for months or years would be stressful for even the fittest and toughest astronauts. Neel V. Patel underlines this fact in a current article for MIT Technology Review. If they are near Earth, they can talk to psychologists. But if they are far away, it will be difficult. Moreover, in the future there could be astronauts in space whose clients cannot afford human psychological support. „An AI assistant that’s able to intuit human emotion and respond with empathy could be exactly what’s needed, particularly on future missions to Mars and beyond. The idea is that it could anticipate the needs of the crew and intervene if their mental health seems at risk.“ (MIT Technology Review, 14 January 2020) NASA wants to develop such an assistant together with the Australian tech firm Akin. They could build on research by Prof. Dr. Oliver Bendel. Together with his teams, he has developed the GOODBOT in 2013 and the BESTBOT in 2018. Both can detect users’ problems and react adequately to these problems. The more recent chatbot even has face recognition in combination with emotion recognition. If it detects discrepancies with what the user has said or written, it will make this a subject of discussion. Oliver Bendel is currently examining the possibilities of a follow-up project. It could be called THE EMPATHIC ASSISTANT IN SPACE (SPACE THEA). SPACE THEA is a voicebot for space ships that reacts with empathy (compassion, concern, possibly even pity). It is certainly available before humans fly to Mars.

Fig.: Lost in space


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