"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.
In a blog post, Catherine Caldwell-Harris, associate professor of psychology at Boston University, suggests the project would make a "great background-story for a dystopian novel."
"I confess I am skeptical of the utility of an artificial intelligence program which mimics parental dialogue," she wrote. "Is there any evidence that children age 3-5 will understand that the avatar on the screen is supposed to be their parent? I wouldn't envy the job of a mother who has to train her 3-year-old to comprehend this."
In a phone interview, Caldwell-Harris added, "You can rapidly speculate on how this could be very damaging for children."
At the same time, she tempered her skepticism, saying that there are clearly potential uses for artificial intelligence that deserve further research funding, like real-time language translation or using avatars to teach foreign languages.
"There is a place for AI [research] dollars," she said. "But I think this was a project that didn't get thought out very well."
"The actual solicitation doesn't seem strongly grounded in any behavioral science," she added, noting that the proposal seemed to have been put together by someone who Googled a few supportive articles.
"If the military is genuinely interested in helping military families, why don't they just provide more money for social services that we already know work?" she said.
Time to Reconsider Enterprise Email StrategyCost, time, and risk. It's the demand trifecta vying for the attention of both technology professionals and attorneys charged with balancing the expectations of their clients and business units with the hard reality of the current financial and regulatory climate. Sometimes, organizations assume high levels of risk as a result of their inability to meet the costs involved in data protection. In other instances, it's time that's of the essence, as with a data breach.
5 Top Federal Initiatives For 2015As InformationWeek Government readers were busy firming up their fiscal year 2015 budgets, we asked them to rate more than 30 IT initiatives in terms of importance and current leadership focus. No surprise, among more than 30 options, security is No. 1. After that, things get less predictable.
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.