MPs invite robot to give evidence on AI

Pepper will take part in a Select Committee about the fourth industrial revolution

Anthony Cuthbertson
Tuesday 09 October 2018 15:09 BST
The robot assistant Pepper, from SoftBank Robotics, is pictured in Paris, France, March 9, 2018
The robot assistant Pepper, from SoftBank Robotics, is pictured in Paris, France, March 9, 2018 (REUTERS)

A robot is set to become the first non-human to appear as a witness before the UK Parliament.

The Commons Education Select Committee invited Pepper the robot from Middlesex University to give evidence at a hearing taking place next week about artificial intelligence, robotics and the fourth industrial revolution.

"If we've got the march of the robots, we perhaps need the march of the robots to our select committee to give evidence," Committee chair Robert Halfon told Tes.

"The fourth industrial revolution is possibly the most important challenge facing our nation over the next 10, 20 to 30 years."

It is not clear whether Pepper will be pre-programmed to answer the questions or if it will rely on artificial intelligence to respond. The Independent has reached out for more details about the appearance.

Despite dystopian predictions and dire warnings of robots and AI taking over people's jobs, the government has previously expressed interest in the potential of robotic technology.

John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service, said in a speech earlier this year that robots were a 21st Century solution to building a "brilliant Civil Service."

"Many of our [government] services will begin to benefit from the huge potential of robotics or, more accurately, robotic process automation (RPA)," he said.

"In speed and accuracy of response, RPA could transform the experience of citizens registering for services, or applying for grants of benefits."

(Reuters (Reuters)

Pepper the robot, first developed by Japanese electronics giant SoftBank, has been used in a variety of roles since it was publicly introduced in 2014.

Equipped with four microphones, two HD cameras and a touchscreen on its chest, versions of Pepper have been employed as a receptionist in UK offices and as an educational tool in schools.

"If you think we are going to be the living version of the Matrix, it is not going to be like that. But I think it will be exciting, interesting and it's basically showing what the potential is," Mr Halfon said.

"This is not about someone bringing an electronic toy robot and doing a demonstration, it's about showing the potential of robotics and artificial intelligence and the impact it has on skills."

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