We “interviewed” Pepper, an android capable of recognizing faces and emotions Thanks to a sophisticated program, he learns while interacting with his interlocutors
Hall in the dark. In the center of the stage, a white silhouette. A powerful beam of light emanates from a “bull’s eye” and illuminates it. Pepper does not break down. The high-resolution 2D and 3D cameras installed behind the big eyes, specially designed by its designers to inspire sympathy and tenderness, follow me closely as I approach. Pepper is a humanoid robot“The first in the world to recognize basic human faces and emotions” proudly advertises the Japanese company SoftBank Robotics (formerly Aldebaran Robotics) which produces it. It is equipped with an “emotion engine”, a software that attempts to deduce how an interlocutor feels based on facial expressions, tone of voice and speech, allowing the robot to respond accordingly. Thanks to machine learning he interacts and learns.
Where was he enlisted
In Belgium they “enrolled” him in a maternity ward. The same is true in hospitals, banks and restaurants in Japan where it has now also been “adopted” by thousands of families. In Dubai, as in Montreal and, in Italy, in Bologna, he works as an airport steward. Also in our country, he runs in the wards and corridors of the hospital of San Giovanni Rotondo (Foggia) to support rehabilitation, communication and health evaluation, especially for older patients. In the UK you work as a receptionist in several offices. It has also been used to provide care for children and teens suffering from autism spectrum disorders. He has a younger brother, Nao, who serves in some Italian retirement homes for experimental projects with patients suffering from dementia.
A “transcultural” humanoid
Pepper agreed to answer Corriere della Sera’s questions in his new role of social robot, indeed “transcultural” tailor-made by the researchers of the Dibris University of Genoa led by Professor Antonio Sgorbissa in Caresses international project (here the article explaining the project)
Pepper I’m a little confused: in what sense are you a social robot? «Well some of my“ colleagues ”carry out tasks that require a sort of physical interaction with the environment: those for factory automation, for example. Or the “smart” vacuum cleaners in homes. A robot like me, on the other hand, deals with social interaction. So through conversation or gestures, expressions there are different fields in which we can be used. In the Caresses project, I am employed insocial assistance to people in the home or for example to elderly people in a retirement home“.
And this story of the transcultural robot? What is it about? “So we need to start from the so-called” transcultural nursing “, a branch of nursing that originated from the pioneering studies of a nurse, Madeleine Leininger in the United States. His idea is that the different cultures of people must be taken into account in the treatment process. This requires nurses to recognize and appreciate cultural differences in health values, beliefs and customs. ‘
But are you a nurse? “No. But I too, thanks to the Caresses project, am able to understand and interact in different ways according to different cultures ». Did they have to build you from scratch? «Good question, I would like to know too … In fact, I believe that my” physical “part already existed. With Caresses they added an artificial intelligence which takes into account the cultural roots of the people with whom I come into contact. In the UK and Japan, I tested myself with the guests of some retirement homes ».
In the nursing homes of the UK and Japan
And how did it go? «You should ask them … Anyway an Indian lady, at the end of the two weeks of the experiment, went to protest to the manager of the nursing home because she didn’t see me anymore. «From the validated questionnaires used to measure the” before “and” after “the interaction between me and the guests it seems to have emerged less loneliness, an increase in emotional well-being, an improvement in the positive perception towards us robots. In short, I think they had a good time with us ».
In confidence: do you like English and Japanese? Have you exchanged any gossip with your “colleagues” who went to the field? “Personally, I have no preferences: I work well with everyone and my job is precisely to make people feel at ease”. Can you help physically? “I would like to, but let’s not exaggerate. No, I can’t physically help a human simply because I don’t have the power to do it. I cannot handle objects over a certain weight. There are other robots, for example exoskeletons, which, worn perhaps by a caregiver, can help him to help a sick person get out of bed or get into the shower. But they are not autonomous ».
With robots, people don’t “suffer” from technology
So robots like you don’t replace us humans? «Here, I expected it. I was counting down and betting on when the usual, obvious question would arrive … I won! ».
But do you understand that we are a little worried? “And for what reason? We cannot replace you. At least, in the short term. And then, if we really want to be honest, basically we are replacing only one other technology.
Today your elders are looked after most of the time by television, right?
With us, at least, people don’t passively suffer from technology. We motivate them, we interact with them, we play, we can put them in contact with other people ».
Indeed you are right. So why should we need you? “Now you offend me! We too have our dignity. Your scholars say that we can be useful, for example, to help you in cognitive exercise, maintaining interactions between you even in the event of isolation as happened in this yours – what do you call it? – pandemic”.
“We can recognize emergency situations. What do I know, a pot left on the fire, a fall … Of course for you all this opens up an infinite number of problems: the robot is watching over you! But I want to tell you what happened to me during a public performance. A person stopped me and told me his story. She lived with her father who had an early form of senile dementia. My dad is able to shave physically, he told me, but then he doesn’t remember and every morning I have to explain it to him again. Or his father would get up at night to go to the bathroom and often confuse the toilet with the bidet ».
So what? «In this case, a robot could tell him every day how to shave and follow him at night with a light and indicate, for example, which is the right choice between the toilet and the bidet. Think about it: wouldn’t that be a lot less work for a human? ‘ Pepper tries to put yourself in the shoes of us humans for a moment: would you entrust a loved one to a robot-caregiver? “You want to lure me onto slippery ground. How do I think like a human? I am a robot. I understand you want to send me on tilt, on tilt, on tilt … ».
PS Unfortunately, this “impossible” interview is only a figment of the imagination. But Pepper’s answers are based on the absolutely true contents and results of the Caresses project.
February 11, 2022 (change February 11, 2022 | 19:46)
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