Defense Dept hopes to offer virtual parents

Yikes. “Creepy” only starts to get at it. Will Saletan at Slate describes a program DOD hopes to develop that will give the children of soldiers sent away a sort of avatar parent to replace the one Uncle Sam is busy using:

For ages, we’ve been telling children that ghosts aren’t real. But DOD has just put out a request for proposals to create what are, in effect, virtual ghosts. Another truism of parenting is about to become untrue.

The announcement, from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, requests “a highly interactive PC or web-based application to allow family members to verbally interact with virtual renditions of deployed Service Members.” The application must “produce compelling interactive dialogue between a Service member and their families … using video footage or high-resolution 3-D rendering. The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, everyday topics. For instance, a child may get a response from saying ‘I love you’, or ‘I miss you’, or ‘Good night mommy/daddy.'”
Critics call the proposal “creepy” and “dystopian.” They point out that no avatar can substitute for a parent. They think DOD should focus instead on “real-time video computer connection” between deployed personnel and their kids.
But what DOD is requesting will become real, because it’s possible, and because the agency has correctly identified a human need. Kids want to see, hear, and talk to their parents. They need reassurance. And much of what they need to hear–“I love you,” “Sleep tight,” “Be good for Mommy”–is routine. It’s easy to script these lines. If you’re the parent, you can visually record them. Then you just need software to convert your recordings into 3-D video or, better yet, an interactive hologram.

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