The robots who will outnumber us must be compassionate, says SoftBank CEO
Thu 30 Jul 2015
The head of Japanese multinational telco SoftBank has called for the development of ‘compassionate’ robots as essential to the evolution of robotics in the next forty years – particularly considering his estimate that robot population is likely to exceed humans within 25 years.
Speaking at the SoftBank World conference in Tokyo, Masayoshi Son said “I’m sure that most people would rather have the warm-hearted person as a friend…Someday robots will be more intelligent than human beings, and [such robots] must also be pure, nice, and compassionate toward people,”
SoftBank’s Aldebaran tech group, which has charged itself with the aim to create ‘kind robots living with humans as a new artificial species’, has already released ‘emotional robots’ into the retail environments of SoftBank stores, and announced today that it will launch its Pepper for Biz product onto the Japanese market in October of 2015, with companies able to hire the androids for JY55,000 (£283 / $442) per month.
The Pepper robot has a considerable array of sensors in his ‘endocrine-type multi-layer neural network’, and is capable of using IBM’s Watson AI engine to learn and at least attempt to identify the emotional responses of its human overlords, which – a little creepily, some think – it will then share with other Pepper robots in its AI subnet in an effort to improve empathic interaction across the brand.
Pepper can identify and attempt to classify facial expressions, and also attempts to respond to them within a context, such as environment.
Fully anthropomorphising the Pepper product, Aldebaran states that the robot is ‘at ease when he is with people he knows, happy when praised and scared when the lights go down,’
A list of some of corporate features announced in today’s press release paints an unnervingly buoyant potential personality profile for businesses which may seek to install a Pepper into their reception environments. In the section ‘Standard pre-installed applications for enterprises’, the first installed option finds Pepper ‘[calling] out to people in the distance and [saying] hello to people nearby’. Other applications permit the robot to play games with and entertain customers, to mail company employees that a customer has arrived on the premises, to expand on the good points of products whilst showing related images, and – perhaps less welcome to the end-user – to take questionnaires ‘based on client needs’.