Your guidance counselor may one day be a robot

ibm uofm project sapphire guidance counselor therapy couples depression anxiety psychology psychiatry
If there’s one common enemy among students, it just might be the dreaded guidance counselor, who despite that title, often seem to provide less good advice than expected. My own, as it happens, used the wrong name in a college recommendation letter — and so maybe it’s a good thing that IBM and the University of Michigan are partnering to create an artificial intelligence system that may help you make important life decisions during some of the more formidable years of your life.

It’s all part of Project Sapphire, a collaboration between the tech company and the renowned institution that seeks to “develop a cognitive system that functions as an academic adviser.” And while the initial iteration of the robotic adviser will be geared specifically towards undergraduate computer science and engineering majors at the University, the project may ultimately “allow researchers to explore how smart machines interact with people in goal-driven dialogues.”

While current interactions with computers, machines, and even more advanced AI systems like Siri tend to miss the vital human element of empathy, these researchers hope to change this by focusing on EQ as well as IQ. In order to do so, researchers will record and analyze “large volumes” of recorded interactions between actual human beings — specifically, college students and their current advisers. By listening to everything from how course selection conversations go, to career advice, to recommended resource for homework help, the scientists will draw upon these experiences to teach their own AI, “and ultimately learn how to automatically navigate and successfully reply in conversations.”

A slew of impressive technologies will be employed in order to achieve success through Project Sapphire, including deep learning, machine learning, reinforcement learning, natural language understanding, knowledge representation, and emotion analysis, making this robot one of the most advanced to date.

“Human-to-machine interactions, similar to human-to-human conversations, are rarely confined to one question and one answer,” said David Nahamoo, IBM fellow and chief technologist for conversational systems, IBM Watson in a statement. “They involve multiple turns of a conversation with responses that can be imprecise and unclear, making it difficult to simulate the human experience. By partnering with the University of Michigan, we have an enormous opportunity to apply AI technologies in new ways and transform human-machine communication.”

But don’t worry, guidance counselors — this AI isn’t meant to put you out of a job. Rather, it’s simply meant to supplement existing resources to further aid students in making potentially life-changing decisions. And at the end of the day, the implications of Project Sapphire extend far beyond the university realm.

“What we are building has the potential to revolutionize how we interact with our computers and other devices such as our cars and our appliances,” said Satinder Singh Baveja, professor of computer science and engineering and director of U-M’s AI Lab. “These conversational systems become cognitive advisers that can assist us in a variety of personal, professional, and enterprise tasks, such as advising for personal finance, helping employees in scheduling meetings and travel arrangement, and providing technical support to customers of an enterprise.”

Product Review

Mediocre battery and a big notch slight Google's otherwise perfect Pixel phone

Google’s Pixel 3 XL has two big flaws: The gigantic notch on the front, and mediocre battery life. That being said, this is the best Android experience you can find in a smartphone today.
Computing

Tired of choosing between Windows and Mac? Check out these Chromebooks instead

We've compiled a list of the best Chromebooks -- laptops that combine great battery life, comfortable keyboards, and the performance it takes to run Google's lightweight Chrome OS. From Samsung to Acer, these are the Chromebooks that really…
Computing

Google's Pixel Slate is new, but does it make the Pixelbook irrelevant?

The ultimate battle of premium Chromebooks — Google's Pixelbook vs Pixel Slate. Two top-shelf devices for the ultimate ChromeOS fan, but which machine will fit best into your daily life?
Emerging Tech

It’s alive! Scientists create ‘artificial life’ on a quantum computer

No, this isn't something from a Michael Crichton techno-thriller: Scientists really have created "artificial life" on a quantum computer for the first time ever. Here's why that matters.
Emerging Tech

With VR dinosaurs and ‘Minecraft,’ one hospital is making medicine less scary

From augmented reality rabbits on the wards to a Minecraft recreation of the hospital for kids to explore, one of the world's most renowned children's hospitals just got a major tech overhaul.
Emerging Tech

Check out the British Army’s beefy new bomb-disposal robot

The British Army is about to get an impressive new explosive ordnance disposal robot that is able to climb stairs, negotiate slopes, cut wires, and … oh, yes, dispose of bombs, too.
Emerging Tech

Will we ever fly supersonic again? Unraveling the concorde’s complex legacy

In a new book, Last Days of the Concorde, journalist and author Samme Chittum delves into the mindset that inspired engineers to design this marvel, the series of events that led to its fatal crash, and the possibility that commercial SSTs…
Emerging Tech

Kill it before it lays eggs! Crazy 32-leg robot moves like a cyborg sea urchin

We’ve seen one-legged, two-legged, four-legged and even six-legged robots, but researchers from Japan have gone way, way further with their latest project: A 32-legged robot. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

Leafy greens are grown by machines at new, automated Silicon Valley farm

Farming hasn't changed too much for hundreds of years. Now a new startup called Iron Ox has opened its first automated hydroponics farm, producing a variety of leafy greens tended by machines.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: DIY smartphones and zip-on bike tires

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Gaming

As deaf gamers speak up, game studios are finally listening to those who can’t

Using social media, personal blogs and Twitch, a small group of deaf and hard-of-hearing players have been working to make their voices heard and improve accessibility in the gaming industry.
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Get your head in the clouds with the best vaporizers for flower and concentrates

Why combust dead plant matter when you could vaporize the good stuff and leave the leaves behind? Here's a rundown of the best vaporizers money can buy, no matter what your style is.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.