While – if one of the most peculiar songs of the 21st century is to be believed – there are upwards of nine million bicycles in Beijing alone, Reuters reports that there are just 27,000 Pepper robots in the entire world. But guess which has had its production paused.
The innocuous humanoid, introduced by SoftBank in 2014, will now see its population stagnate indefinitely, while our otherwise peaceful strolls along Regent’s Canal will only ever be exponentially impeded by dinging bells and yells of “on your right!”
Ready to rub salt in Pepper’s wounds was robotics expert Noel Sharkey, who believes the project misled people to overestimate its intelligence. “It was mostly remote-controlled with a human conversing through its speakers,” he said. “Deceiving the public in this way is dangerous and gives the wrong impression of the capabilities of AI in the real world.”
With the greatest of respect to Pepper, we’re not sure anyone was ever under any great illusion as it toiled around airports and office lobbies, motionless grin on its face and touchscreen crudely attached to its front, the exhumed remains of an early Teletubby prototype that wouldn’t agree to ride a scooter.
The real story here is that Pepper robots are being discontinued now, so soon after their role in guiding us through a pandemic. We should be treating our remaining robot heroes with the same level of dignity we reserve for our own kind on the frontline, not least when all that means is a few bangs on a saucepan and a 1% pay rise.