Robot that can ‘read emotions’ keeps getting fired from jobs

These are not the droids you’re looking for.

Japanese-based Softbank Group announced last week it was pressing pause on “Pepper”, an artificial intelligent robot it started producing in 2014, after multiple “firings.”

Pepper, which was supposed to be able to “read emotions” and converse with people, has been axed by multiple companies around the world for various issues.

Nissei Eco Co., a plastics manufacturer with a sideline in the funeral business, hired Pepper to chant sutras or scriptures to mourners at funerals, but soon fired it after Pepper kept breaking down during practice runs.

“What if it refused to operate in the middle of a ceremony?” funeral-business manager Osamu Funaki told the Wall Street Journal. “It would be such a disaster.”

Scottish grocery chain Margiotta installed a Pepper in their flagship Edinburgh store, but was fired after continually telling customers to look “in the alcohol section” when they asked where things were.

Pepper the robot at work at Margiotta Food and Wine in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Pepper the robot at work at Margiotta Food and Wine in Edinburgh.

A Japanese nursing-home company purchased three Pepper androids to keep residents company and lead group singalongs. These Peppers were fired after taking “unplanned breaks” at work.

A Pepper who led cheers at the SoftBank Hawks baseball team games was ditched for being creepy.

“It reminded me of a military parade in North Korea or China,” baseball fan Hirofumi Miyato told the Journal. “It felt creepy”.

Pepper the robot was designed to be able to read people's emotions and communicate with them.
Pepper the robot was designed to be able to read people’s emotions and communicate with them.
REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

Robotics expert Professor Noel Sharkey told the BBC: “Pepper did a lot to harm genuine robotics research by giving an often false impression of a bright cognitive being that could hold conversations.”

“Because it has the shape of a person, people expect the intelligence of a human,” Takayuki Furuta, head of the Future Robotics Technology Center at Chiba Institute of Technology, told the Journal. “The level of the technology completely falls short of that. It’s like the difference between a toy car and an actual car.”


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