Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction epic 2001: A Space Odyssey might not be so fictional after all.In the movie, the HAL 9000 supercomputer interacts with a team on a space mission as though it is a fellow member of the crew. It carries on conversations and can detect even subtle changes in tone and emotion. HAL represents the peak of artificial intelligence.Steps toward the development of a real-word HAL may be under way in Massachusetts, where techniques that could enable a computer to monitor and respond to a user’s emotional state — frustration, boredom, anxiety — are being created.But this computer is not being developed for interplanetary space travel. Its mission is much simpler: to improve a user’s work output and to reduce stress.Researchers at Tufts University in Medford used a technique known as functional near-infrared spectroscopy to measure hemoglobin concentration and tissue oxygenation levels in the brain as the user performed tasks that ranged from simple to complex. Worn as a headband, the device sends near-IR light through the forehead — to a depth of 2 to 3 cm — where it interacts with the brain’s frontal lobe. Some of the light is absorbed, while the remaining light is reflected to the functional near-IR spectroscopy sensors. Blood flow changes to compensate the area of the brain that is being used.Acquiring accurate measurements of a user’s mental state would be valuable in gauging human-computer interaction for the evaluation of interfaces and for real-time input to computer systems, the researchers said.Now all they have to do is teach the computer to read lips.