Japanese robot to get Artificial Intelligence A humanoid robot Pepper is on display at SoftBank mobile shop in Tokyo (- AP photos)
Japanese robot to get Artificial Intelligence
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Japanese mobile carrier Softbank says it will incorporate artificial intelligence technology from IBM into its empathetic robot Pepper. The robot will be available to Japanese consumers around midyear.

The artificial intelligence engine "Watson" is made by IBM and is already used in health care, travel and insurance services in English. But an adaptation was needed to make it work and think in Japanese, said Steve Gold, vice president of IBM Watson Group.

Unlike other cognitive technology that responds rather mechanically, Watson can learn over time like a human brain. Watson understands the concept of probability, which makes it sophisticated and more human-like for applications, according to IBM.

"It depends on the context of the conversation as to what the right answer would be," as opposed to how a computer would generally try to answer correctly, Gold told The Associated Press. "The world is seldom absolute."

Software developers who have made reservations for Pepper robots will get them sometime this month. They will cost $1,700, according to Softbank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son.

Consumers won't be able to get Pepper until between June and August, he said. Details of the sales plan were undecided, Son added. No decision has been made on overseas sales.

Softbank had said earlier that sales to Japanese consumers would begin this month as well. Son did not elaborate on the reason for the delay but he said giving it first to the developers will mean more fun applications will be available when consumers get the robot. Son implied it wasn't quite ready as a product.

Pepper has a stunned face a bit like C3PO in "Star Wars." It moves around on wheels. In early demonstrations it was a bit mechanical in its responses. Gold said Watson will change that. Watson will make Pepper a smarter, more charming companion.

For example, two plus two is four in arithmetic. But in another context it could refer to a car design, Gold said. Watson is designed to figure out context and know which answer is more likely.

A call center using Watson will get the caller to the right solution more quickly. That will make for a less frustrating consumer experience, he said.

But the complexity of the Japanese language challenges even Watson, Gold said. apanese includes thousands of characters with various meanings and several phonetic options.

Besides Pepper, Softbank will use Watson inside the company. Softbank will resell it in Japan to businesses such as call centers. The company will work with other companies to develop new applications, according to IBM.

Critical thinking challenge: What would you like to be able to do with a robot like Pepper?

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