Indian author and political activist Arundhati Roy once said: “If we were to lose the ability to be emotional, if we were to lose the ability to be angry, to be outraged, we would be robots.” Yet nothing seems further from the truth when you meet “Pepper” from Softbank Robotics Corp. Pepper, you see, is a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence that enables emotion recognition. The robot is already at work in consumer and retail shops as well as in client-facing operations at banks.
It has been a year since Pepper was first introduced to homes and early-adopter companies. The "novelty and fun" phase is now transitioning to the "commonplace and practical" or "solution-for-business-challenges" phase. The B2B market is actively debating how robots can be used to drive operational innovations. Unlike traditional computers, future computers are anticipated to self-evolve. At Softbank, robots are not viewed as simple machines but are instead defined as "self-evolving, self-developing fabulous devices."
In American pop culture, robots are seen as "expanding" what the human body can do. In movies, robots are often thought to be either good or evil, friend or foe, or as residing in the "dark side", trying to dominate the human race. Europeans meanwhile have a more realistic fear of robots taking jobs from human workers. The Japanese believe robots can be used as a human communication interface. Humanoids seem to be a concept unique to Japan and Asia.
To better understand what separates this Japanese robot from all others, it is important to look at its three key features. Because of its humanoid appearance, users interact with Pepper as if it were really alive. Thus, Pepper can drive customer engagement and experience. Secondly, these computers can be developed as a platform. Finally, all Peppers are connected to the cloud, which allows them to constantly learn new things, and what one Pepper learns is uploaded and shared across all other Peppers.
For the consumer & retail and banking industries, standard features can be configured into customer interaction templates for use in attending to customers or for marketing activities. In addition, Pepper can store information from interacting with customers on the cloud for future analysis, and the data can then be visualized, providing an integrated streamflow through to customer support. Pepper also has sensors to detect anyone approaching it, which enables interaction with that individual. Following the interaction, the new customer information can be reviewed through Interactive Analytics. "We need to know more about Pepper. In ten years, Pepper will be used in ways we never imagined. 2016 will become known as the first 'robot year', the first year we saw Pepper in full action," notes Masahiko Niwa, managing director, Accenture Japan Mobility Lead, adding, "Pepper is not only about enriching the customer experience. Accenture is working together with Softbank Robotics to take it to another level, thinking about how it can help solve our client's challenges and how it can be used to provide better customer services."
Since Pepper is always connected to the Internet and to a cloud environment, it will always have the latest information while engaged in conversation with the customer and will be able to reflect that information in the conversation in real time. It enables service with high added value. And unlike consumer electronic goods which begin losing their value the moment they are purchased, most 'smart' devices increase their value through continuous use and Pepper is a machine which continues to learn and grow. “The Accenture Interactive R&D Center is engaged in the research and development of small-sized robots. Experiments are ongoing to materialize them into business solutions,” notes Hirotaka Kawata, managing director, Communications, Media and Technology group, Accenture Japan, and concluding "Accenture is the global leader in using AI in business, and Japan is currently the world leader in the use of humanoids. Softbank Robotics is eyeing global expansion with the Japanese market as its central foothold. Accenture will also continue to introduce the rest of the world to innovation created in Japan."