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A new robot–the first of its kind–is about to hit the market. Aldebaran, a French company specializing in robotics, has partnered with Softbank to create a first-in-class, emotionally aware and empathetic robot named Pepper. With a helping hand from Foxconn on the manufacturing side, the companies are opening completely new ground on two fields: artificial intelligence and robotics. Each encounter the robot has provides many communication cues that recognize gestures, voices and emotions; and all of these elements will be uploaded to the cloud where an artificial intelligence engine will be fed. The result will come in the form of clear insight and understanding so the owner of the robot can fulfill his or her emotional needs. Of course, the robot can also perform a variety of household tasks and other physical duties as well.
The benefits of a robot that is emotionally attuned to humans, proponents say, can apply to both the artificial intelligence engine and people alike since they will both experience a more human interaction. According to robotics enthusiasts, this empathy is exactly what common software systems currently lack. When Softbank presented the robot, they allowed it to welcome members of the press. Pepper began recording a large amount of data for the purpose of “learning” and improving its communication for future encounters. By being able to keep up with the conversation and interpretation of reactions, the emotionally aware robot is poised to forever change global cultures.
Those who find this to be a beneficial technology development say the robot named Pepper is exactly what popular culture imagines a robot like this should be. Its hands are perfectly comparable with those of a human, it can move around seamlessly, and its included screen provides countless applications. Of course, it can also give feedback in the form of expressions. Some say its eyes are the most impressive feature and with just a glimpse, members of the press could read what Pepper was saying to them. Most importantly, the artificial intelligence engine understands context, which is considered high-level thinking. It is being reported that it can communicate as well as some humans.
At first glance it might seem as if the robot’s size is small, but compared to other existing prototypes, it is actually quite large. This emotionally aware, empathetic robot named Pepper will be available for $1,900 and will begin popping up on store shelves in February in Japan. Pepper made its first public appearance by whistling and whispering. It also high-fived Masayoshi Son, Sofbank’s Executive Director; the symbolic gesture a shout-out to E.T. It is the first model in a new category and can even make people laugh while interacting with it.
The robot’s applications are many. For example, it is the only modern product model able to work as a child’s tutor. It can be a companion to seniors who, for whatever reason, do not have a human presence at hand; with the added convenience that Pepper can perform many tasks just like a human, with great precision. Some are saying that the interaction is simply breathtaking–by starting a conversation the robot understands if it should provide an answer with a particular twist or if a task should be performed. What’s even more staggering is that each interaction feeds the centralized engine with the added benefit of improving every single other interaction coupled with increased understanding. This emotionally aware, empathetic robot has been described as science fiction coming to life. It will be available in just a few short months. Some psychologists and other experts question whether replacing humans with robots is ethical. For example, in her non-fiction book Alone Together, author Sherry Turkle predicts that humans could see a future where there are no other humans to care for them. Nursing homes could be attended only by robot caregivers, she writes. While some eagerly anticipate robots like Pepper coming to market, others question whether the need for robots to replace humans is a poignant statement about loneliness and isolation, especially as it pertains to the elderly.
By: Rebecca Savastio