Pentagon Wants Chat Bots to Replace Parents


Thomas Claburn
InformationWeek
January 6, 2009

The U.S. Department of Defense is looking to develop virtual parents to comfort children when moms and dads on active duty aren’t available to talk.

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In a solicitation for proposals posted on the department’s Small Business Innovation Research Web site, the military says it’s seeking to “develop a highly interactive PC- or Web-based application to allow family members to verbally interact with ‘virtual’ renditions of deployed Service Members.”

“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.

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