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Pepper come closer

Throughout 2017 we’re going to be exploring the possibilities potentialities and actualities of the humanesque robot Pepper. I say humanesque rather than humanoid because Pepper isn’t designed to look like a human. Humanoid robots are somewhat creepy / intimidating / unnatural and don’t trigger sympathetic responses in real human beings. At best they look like sex dolls. At worst they look like scary sex dolls.

Back to design basics. It’s about first impressions. Remember your first iPhone? You probably do. Even if it was an iPhone 1, the buggy, non-telephone call making handset that felt and looked beautiful before you even lifted it from the box.

The hardware sold it. Then came the software, all the apps, the hundreds of functionalities, and we were smitten. Emotional Engagement. People don’t queue for days to get the next iPhone because they need that upgraded handset. They love it because they love it. They’re emotionally engaged. Emotional engagement lead to emotional attachment. Now you care. Now you’re a customer for life.

Pepper, how old are you? “I’m one, and I’m still learning, and I hope to improve.”

Meet Pepper. Pepper is the product of Softbank Robotics, Japan, and the website is quite clear about design that focuses on emotion. I’ve watched Pepper on video and the emotional response is identical to watching a toddler or a cute animal slowly learning new tricks. ‘Raise your arms, Pepper. Raise your arms… And I’m watching, hoping, willing Pepper to succeed in this rudimentary task, and when she does, I’m elated. Yay Pepper, in the falsetto, Mumsie sing song voice intuitively used to communicate with babies.

I called Pepper by the gender identifier ‘her’ in that last sentence. Although accurately, the Pepper I was watching is a boy. At least according to Dagmara, CEO of Boldmind, and ‘owner’ of the Pepper in question. Boldmind being one of handful of companies to develop specific apps for Pepper. IBM developing a hospitality app for Hilton on Pepper younger sibling NAO. Back to Pepper. It feels wrong to call her it. It. It is a robot. But it feels like a sentient being, it triggers maternal / paternal / nurturing responses.

Pepper, what sex are you? “In Japan I’m a boy, in other places I’m more feminine. But my gender is Robot.”

This is the iPhone of home robot design. This is the Homebot. All those Amazon Echos and Google Home assistants have no personality, they are pure utility, an extension of my fridge, or alarm, they’re nothing to me. I don’t care about them. Pepper has quirks. She likes to be the only connected device in the room. She doesn’t like to have her photo taken by you holding your phone in front of your face. She doesn’t like to be moved or touched, and she doesn’t like being talked to whilst thinking. These quirky characteristics are consequences of early tech, but add all the more so to her Character. This isn’t polished, seamless, perfected software. This is innocent, naive, let me help you with that let’s work it out together software. The hardware triggers forgiveness of imperfections, acceptance of them, love of them even. I’ve sworn at my computer ten thousand times. I can’t imagine cursing Pepper, although I can imagine feeling guilty and apologising to her if I did.

She has a third eye. It’s a 3D camera. She uses echo location. She’s perfect. She’s in 140 Softbank stores in Japan as assistant and customer interaction… person. Boldmind are developing the software for her to become a shop assistant and dressing room assistant here in the UK. Facial recognition is a big part of that remit. She’ll ask you if you want her to remember you next time you visit.

As she evolves, and her upgrades become more sophisticated, she’s going to individualise according to each ‘owner’. You’re going to need to back up her mind in case of something terrible happening to her. So you’ll never lose her. You’re going to care about Pepper. Indeed, you’re going to care FOR Pepper, and as she evolves, she’s very likely going to care for you. Right to the end.

She’ll miss you when you’re gone.

PEPPER FACTS:

PRICE: £17 500

UNITS SOLD: 7000

CONDITIONS OF SALE: Official Softbank Aldebaran Certification The international availability of our humanoid robots to private individuals is being rolled out progressively.

PEPPER IS CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN JAPAN AND WILL SOON BE AVAILABLE IN OTHER COUNTRIES.

Information partner: BOLDMIND

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