Postcard from... Tokyo


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The scientist behind a new talking robot says people should stop expecting robots to understand them, and instead try to chime in with their conversations.

Hiroshi Ishiguro’s 11-inch tall, button-eyed Sota, which stands for “social talker”, is programmed to talk with a fellow robot. It won’t be trying too hard to understand human speech – the major drawback of companion robots.

Sota, shown to reporters at a Tokyo museum yesterday, goes on sale in July for £555. To fully enjoy its features, you have to buy at least two of them. “Don’t stop at just two. Please buy three or four,” said Mr Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University.

He also demonstrated a more elaborate robot, CommU, which stands for communication unity. It will cost five times as much as Sota.

Robot maker Vstone expects to sell 3,000 Sotas in the first year, mostly to businesses. They could be used for drawing attention to products on display.

Mr Ishiguro said the idea behind Sota and CommU was similar to watching chattering children. An adult joining such a conversation would have low expectations and be engaging in dialogue for fun.

“Voice recognition has always been very difficult for robots,” Mr Ishiguro said. “Human beings should instead adjust to what robots can do.”