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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pepper, the personal robot .... artificial intelligence !!


That was relatively little when compared to the lumpen feeling reading the travails of the little Jeeno, in the most interesting Sci-fi of Sujatha -  ‘En EniyaIyanthira ’  and MeendumJeano – the story of robotic dog woven subtly around a dictator who keeps the Nation under tight grip.   The pet robot dog which can think beyond humans, assists the dumb Nila in search of her spouse Sibi into bigger things.  Towards the end, the cute exceptionally dog loses it memory and back up and fades away ! Illogical it might sound, it was afterall a story – yet,  I felt very sad reading of its end. 

Reports suggest that  Nestlé has employed a fleet of chirpy robots to sell its coffee machines in Japanese stores.The US actor,  George Clooney  who has become the global face of the Nespresso brand, has been given the elbow in favour of Pepper, a cheeky and chatty android, which its makers claim can answer customers’ questions.“How do you enjoy coffee? Number one: An eye-opener coffee; Number two: A post-meal cup of coffee,” Pepper asked a Japanese TV personality, Kyoko Uchida, at a promotion event in Tokyo  !! Engineers claim the robot’s artificial intelligence has allowed it to expand its conversational ability by listening to what customers say.

Standing at a little over a foot tall and capable of recognising human emotions, personal robot Pepper is already proving a success in Japan. MailOnline reports that within a minute of going on sale at the weekend, the first 1,000 units of the humanoid had been ordered. SoftBank Robotics said that orders are no longer being taken and it would announce additional sales in July.


Pepper is made by French firm Aldebaran Robotics, a subsidiary of the mobile carrier Softbank. In December, Nescafe hired 1,000 Pepper robots to work across home appliance stores in Japan, where they help customers looking for a Nespresso coffee machine.  Pepper robots are also used in Softbank stores as shop assistants. Claims made by an expert in artificial intelligence predict that in less than five years, office jobs will disappear completely to the point where machines will replace humans.

The idea that robots will one day be able to do all low-skilled jobs is not new, but Andrew Anderson from UK artificial intelligence company, Celaton, said the pace of advance is much faster than originally thought.AI, for example, can carry out labour intensive clerical tasks quickly and automatically, while the latest models are also capable of making decisions traditionally made by humans. 'The fact that a machine can not only carry out these tasks, but constantly learn how to do it better and faster, means clerical workers are no longer needed in the vast quantities they once were,' Mr Anderson said.

For example, a machine can recognise duplicate insurance claims by knowing it has seen a phone number or an address before.Equipped with the latest voice and emotion recognition technology, Pepper is able to read people's facial expressions and listen to their tone of voice to analyse how they're feeling. 'Pepper will be able to explain Nescafé products and services and engage in conversation with consumers, ' said Kohzoh Takaoka, president and chief executive of Nestlé Japan at the time.

'The dream to create an advanced consumer experience with Pepper is now coming true. The Aldebaran robots retail from 198,000 yen (£1,107 or $1,600 or Rs.101600 approx) and can understand 80 per cent of conversations. They also have the ability to learn from conversations.Aldebran additionally makes Neo which has two cameras mounted to its head, that act as eyes, as well as four directional microphones to act as its ears.The 1ft 11in (58cm) bot also has touch sensors, can speak 19 languages and is able to read and respond to emotions, by analysing facial expressions.This analysis is made using embedded software called NAOqi.

Aldebran additionally makes Neo which  was recently hired to work at branches of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group on a trial basis. It has two cameras on its head, that act as eyes, as well as four directional microphones. The 1ft 11in (58cm) bot also has touch sensors, can speak 19 languages and reads emotions.  Artificial Intelligence has been described as a threat that could be 'more dangerous than nukes'.  A group of scientists and entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, have signed an open letter promising to ensure AI research benefits humanity.The letter warns that without safeguards on intelligent machines, mankind could be heading for a dark future. The document, drafted by the Future of Life Institute, said scientists should seek to head off risks that could wipe out mankind.

The authors say there is a 'broad consensus' that AI research is making good progress and would have a growing impact on society.It highlights speech recognition, image analysis, driverless cars, translation and robot motion as having benefited from the research.'The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilisation has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable,' the authors write.But it issued a stark warning that research into the rewards of AI had to be matched with an equal effort to avoid the potential damage it could wreak.

In the  short term, it claims AI may put millions of people out of work.In the long term, it could have the potential to play out like a fictional dystopias in which intelligence greater than humans could begin acting against their programming.  If the trial is successful, the robotic employees will be rolled out to more branches of the Japanese bank by 2020.Robotic companions are hugely popular in Japan but have failed to become commercial successes elsewhere.Japanese electronics and entertainment company Sony discontinued the Aibo pet-dog robot in 2006, despite an outcry from its fans.Aldebaran has produced more than 5,000 of its Nao humanoid, and it is primarily used for research and educational purposes. They can understand 80 per cent of conversations. They also have the ability to learn from conversations Athena is the first humanoid robot to travel as airline passenger

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

25th June 2015.

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