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TrekToday - NASA Develops Trek-Like Speaking Computer

NASA Develops Trek-Like Speaking Computer

By Christian
June 24, 2005 - 9:50 PM

NASA will soon be installing a new voice-activated computer system on the International Space Station that bears a striking resemblance to Star Trek's computer system.

Called Clarissa, the system will initially be able to support about 75 individual commands, which can be accessed using a vocabulary of some 260 words. Besides recognising words and sentences in varying contexts and uttered in various ways, Clarissa will also be able to respond to the commands, read procedure steps out loud, and support voice-activated alarms and timers. The system may first be tested onboard the ISS as early as June 27 by astronaut John Phillips.

In the fictional Star Trek universe, Starfleet crew have been able to speak with the computer since the Original Series, first by pressing a button to make the computer listen to commands, and from The Next Generation on by simply saying "Computer." But with the new NASA system, this won't even be necessary. "NASA wanted the system to be ready to assist at any time and without requiring artificial activation commands," Xerox researcher Jean-Michel Renders, who co-developed Clarissa, said in a press release. "Therefore, a simpler Star Trek solution -- like having crew members address the computer by stating a specific word such as 'computer' before posing a question or speaking a command to the system -- wasn't a viable solution. We needed to improve the performance of the system in discriminating between commands and conversation."

The computer system is eagerly anticipated by current astronauts, including Michael Fincke, who also recently had a small guest appearance on "These Are The Voyages..." "Just try to analyze a water sample while scrolling through pages of a procedure manual displayed on a computer monitor while you and the computer float in microgravity," Fincke said. "To be able to speak to the system and hear the step-by-step instructions while my hands are free to complete the procedure will be like having another crew member aboard."

More information on the Clarissa computer system can be found in the original press release from NASA and Xerox. There is no word on whether they've approached Majel Barrett to provide the voice for this computer, too.

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