In the future, robots will pick through the vast quantities of data we’ve accrued during the 21st century like anthropologists, picking through our bones and learning from our mistakes. For now they’re practicing by showing us our own past at the Smithsonian in DC.
As a way to get their name out there, the tech company Softbank Robotics donated 30 robots to the museum in 2017. Lovingly called Pepper, the 4-foot tall humanoids replace conventional human tour guides to go do unemployed human things while the robots engage nearby visitors with stories, information and conversation.
“We’re eager to experiment with how Pepper can help us support docents and educators in the vital work they do while providing a fun and surprising experience for the millions of children and adults who visit us each year.” said Rachel Goslins, Director of the Arts and Industry Building.
Softbank’s robots are already being used around Asia in commercial and educational environments, as well as in airports and malls as overglorified maps.
To be fair Pepper has a fair number of abilities and applications (except stairs, those are an issue when you’re on wheels). Pepper can dance, play games and pose for selfies, as well as teach you how to code and do software engineering.
“We’ve seen how Pepper’s technology can completely transform consumer experiences in different types of environments. By interacting with museum visitors and providing insight on different exhibits, Pepper will help guide their educational experience through the Smithsonian that they otherwise might have missed out on,” said Steve Carlin, Chief Strategy Officer of Softbank Robotics.
Pepper isn’t an artificial intelligence, it’s exchanges are prescripted, and conversations are stilted, with a decent amount of interaction being through the tablet fused to Pepper’s chest. But it’ll be early pioneers like this that could one day be replaced with far more sophisticated automatons.