Picture courtesy NASA via Space.com; click for full size
Clarissa explains it all (in space)
If you really want to feel inadequate about how human technical advance has proceeded over the past few decades, give 2001: A Space Odyssey another viewing: hotels on space stations, Pan-Am flights to orbit, sentient (albeit murderous) computers, etc. Nine years after the real 2001, we've got just the one space station, and despite a handful of tourists that have visited, it lacks basic hotel amenities like a spa or turn-down service.
But where are we on the talking computers controlling a spacecraft front? Well, as it turns out, not very far. The closest we've got is the chatty "Clarissa" software, which may not be able to think and feel for itself, but does serve a useful purpose. It's a procedure browser, which reads instructions for complicated tasks aloud. That might not sound like much, but it can turn a two-person job into a one-person task, or keep an astronaut's focus on the task at hand, rather than on a printout or laptop screen. This sort of practical gadget isn't flashy -- but it does solve a specific problem, unlike the grand schemes of intelligent computers. And Clarissa probably won't try to take over the space station for its own purposes.
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