An AI Digital Assistant That Can Respond With Empathy
Tue, April 20, 2021

An AI Digital Assistant That Can Respond With Empathy

Akin is planning to develop AI digital assistants that can give emotional support to astronauts / Credits: Piqsels


Astronauts have to do a lot of tasks as they orbit Earth, from commanding and piloting spacecraft as well as keeping the spacecraft’s log updated with all eventualities to providing regular maintenance and repairs to satellites and responding to and reporting emergencies. While it’s fascinating to do these jobs, the fact remains that astronauts face many responsibilities and duties. Thus, their tasks can be stressful and can affect both their physical and mental health. 

To address this concern, Stanley Kubrick and HAL 9000 pitched an idea to create a digital assistant powered by AI that can act as a companion to the astronauts. Tom Soderstrom, CTO at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, stated that they are currently working with Australian tech firm Akin to develop an AI that could one day provide emotional support for astronauts on deep-space missions. 

“That’s the piece that excites me the most about Akin. We want to have an intelligent assistant that can control the spacecraft’s temperature and direction, figure out any technical problems—that is also watching human behavior,” Soderstrom said. 

The problem is that there’s plenty of AI digital assistants that are helping astronauts in space. For instance, CIMON, short for “crew interactive mobile companion,” is IBM’s medicine-ball-size emotional robot that assists astronauts on the International Space Station in their various tasks and experiments. However, CIMON and other robots are stunted by a lack of emotional intelligence. 

According to MIT Technology Review, an online site that aims to bring about better-informed and more conscious decisions about technology through authoritative, influential, and trustworthy journalism, Akin is also developing two more prototypes: Eva the Explorer and Anna the Assistant. Eva will be designed to up on subtle speech and facial expression cues as it participates in more complex conversations. Anna, on the other hand, will be taking notes, answering questions, handling objects and tools, and troubleshooting problems.