Softbank’s Empathetic Robot Will Get New Learning Technology

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Softbank, a Japan mobile carrier, announced on Tuesday that it will be incorporating IBM’s artificial intelligence technology into its Pepper robot. The empathetic robot will be available to Japanese consumers by mid-2015.

IBM’s (NYSE:IBM)“Watson” AI engine is already being used in insurance, travel and health care services, but the services are currently available in English. To implement the technology into the Pepper robot, an adaptation was needed to make it think and work in Japanese.

Watson is unlike other cognitive technologies. It can learn over time, just like the human brain. It can also understand probability, which makes Watson more human-like. Rather than trying to answer as a typical computer would, Watson uses the context of the conversation to determine the right answer.

Those who have already reserved a Pepper robot can expect to receive them sometime in February for $1,700. The robot will be available to consumers sometime between June and August. No decision on overseas sales has been made, and no sale plan has been announced either.

The Pepper robot was supposed to be ready for consumers this month. No details have been released as to why the release has been delayed, but the additional development time will allow for more fun applications to be implemented into the robot. In other words, the project wasn’t quite finished yet.

Because Watson can learn and use context to find the right answer, it can be used in a number of different applications. However, the complexity of the Japanese language has presented a problem for developers. The language, which includes thousands of characters with multiple meanings and multiple phonetic options is a challenge for even Watson.

Pepper will not be a profitable venture at first. But it will pave the way for a new lifestyle and there’s promise of turning it into a real business within the next 30 years.

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