Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Space station gets HAL-like computer

Filed under
Sci/Tech

A voice-operated computer assistant is set to be used in space for the first time on Monday – its operators hope it proves more reliable than "HAL", the treacherous speaking computer in the movie 2001.

Called Clarissa, the program will initially talk astronauts on the International Space Station through tests of onboard water supplies. But its developers hope it will eventually be used for all computer-related work on the station.

Clarissa was designed with input from astronauts. They said it was difficult to perform the 12,000 procedures necessary to maintain the ISS and conduct scientific experiments while simultaneously reading through lengthy instruction manuals.

"Just try to analyse a water sample while scrolling through pages of a procedure manual displayed on a computer monitor while you and the computer both float in microgravity," says US astronaut Michael Fincke, who spent six months on the station in 2004.

Clarissa queries astronauts about the details of what they need to accomplish in a particular procedure, then reads through step-by-step instructions. Astronauts control the program using simple commands like "next" or more complicated phrases, such as "set challenge verify mode on steps three through fourteen".

"The idea was to have a system that would read steps to them under their control, so they could keep their hands and eyes on whatever task they were doing," says Beth Ann Hockey, a computer scientist who leads the project at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, US.

That capability "will be like having another crew member aboard", says Fincke. (You can see Clarissa in action in a mp4 video hosted on this NASA page.)

“No, I meant … “

Clarissa's software runs on a laptop and astronauts interact with it using a headset, which helps screen out noise from the station. The program "listens" to everything astronauts say and analyses what to do in response using a "command grammar" of 75 commands based on a vocabulary of 260 words.

It accurately interprets those commands about 94% of the time, but if it makes a mistake, astronauts can correct it with commands like, "no, I meant … ". But because Clarissa listens to everything, early versions of the program misinterpreted whether an astronaut was giving it a command or having an unrelated conversation about 10% of the time.

So developers turned to the Xerox Research Centre Europe in Grenoble, France, and researchers there halved that error rate by using the context of phrases as a "spam-filtering system", says Manny Rayner, Clarissa's lead implementer at NASA Ames.

Clarissa's software was delivered to the station in January 2005 and on Monday, US astronaut John Phillips, currently aboard the station, will train to use the program in space.

It currently covers a handful of procedures designed to test station water for bacteria. But project managers hope the protocol can be applied to other procedures - and eventually could be used to launch any computer application. "Ultimately, we'd like speaking to your computer to be normal," Hockey told New Scientist.

That might send shivers down the spine of anyone who watched HAL turn on its human controllers in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey". But Hockey says Clarissa does not have HAL's artificial intelligence. "Clarissa is more friendly and is not going to go renegade on us," says Hockey, whose recorded voice has been borrowed by Clarissa.

Source.

More in Tux Machines

Having offended everyone else in the world, Linus Torvalds calls own lawyers a 'nasty festering disease'

Coding curmudgeon Linus Torvalds has gone off on yet another rant: this time against his own lawyers and free software activist Bradley Kuhn. On a mailing list about an upcoming Linux conference, a discussion about whether to include a session on the GPL that protects the open source operating system quickly devolved in an angry rant as its founder piled in. Read more

The Battle of The Budgie Desktops – Budgie-Remix vs SolusOS!

Ladies and gentleman, it’s the moment you have all been waiting for… the main even of the evening! In this corner, wearing Budgie trunks, fighting out of Ireland, created by Ikey Doherty, the man behind Linux Mint Debian Edition — SolusOS! And in this corner, built on the defending champion, also wearing Budgie trunks, aiming to be the next flavor of Ubuntu, Budgie-Remix! Read more

Leftovers: Software

  • 5 Cool Unikernels Projects
    Unikernels are poised to become the next big thing in microservices after Docker containers. Here’s a look at some of the cool things you can do with unikernels. First, though, here’s a quick primer on what unikernels are, for the uninitiated. Unikernels are similar to containers in that they let you run an app inside a portable, software-defined environment. But they go a step further than containers by packaging all of the libraries required to run the app directly into the unikernel.
  • Cedrus Is Making Progress On Open-Source Allwinner Video Encode/Decode
    The developers within the Sunxi camp working on better Allwinner SoC support under Linux have been reverse-engineering Allwinner's "Cedar" video engine. Their project is being called Cedrus with a goal of "100% libre and open-source" video decode/encode for the relevant Cedar hardware. The developers have been making progress and yesterday they published their initial patches that add a V4L2 decoder driver for the VPU found on Allwinner's A13 SoC.
  • Phoronix Test Suite 6.6 Milestone 3 Released For Linux Benchmarking
  • Calibre 2.65.1 eBook Viewer Adds Driver for Kobo Aura One and Aura 2 Readers
    Kovid Goyal released today, August 26, 2016, a new maintenance update of his popular, cross-platform, and open-source Calibre e-book viewer, converter and library management tool. Calibre 2.65 was announced earlier, and it looks like it's both a feature and bugfix release that adds drivers for the Kobo Aura One and Kobo Aura Edition 2 ebook readers, along with a new option to the Kobo driver to allow users to ignore certain collections on their ebook reader. The list of new features continues with support for right-to-left text and tables to the DOCX Input feature, as well as the implementation of a new option to allow users to make searching case-sensitive. This option can be found and enabled in the "Searching" configuration section under Preferences.
  • Calamares 2.4 Universal Installer Framework Polishes Existing Functionality
    A new stable version of the Calamares universal installer framework used by various GNU/Linux distributions as default graphical installer has been released with various improvements and bug fixes. Calamares 2.4 is now the latest build, coming two months after the release of the previous version, Calamares 2.3, which introduced full-disk encryption support. However, Calamares 2.4 is not as big as the previous update as it only polished existing functionality and address various annoying issues reported by users.
  • RcppArmadillo 0.7.400.2.0
    Another Armadillo 7.* release -- now at 7.400. We skipped the 7.300.* serie release as it came too soon after our most recent CRAN release. Releasing RcppArmadillo 0.7.400.2.0 now keeps us at the (roughly monthly) cadence which works as a good compromise between getting updates out at Conrad's sometimes frantic pace, while keeping CRAN (and Debian) uploads to about once per month. So we may continue the pattern of helping Conrad with thorough regression tests by building against all (by now 253 (!!)) CRAN dependencies, but keeping release at the GitHub repo and only uploading to CRAN at most once a month.
  • Spotio Is A Light Skin for Spotify’s Desktop App — And Its Coming To Linux
    Spotify’s dark design is very much of its identity. No-matter the platform you use it on, the dark theme is there staring back at you. Until now. A bunch of ace websites, blogs and people I follow have spent the past 24 hours waxing lyrical over a new Spotify skin called Spotio.