Robot gives evidence to parliamentary committee

Written by Hannah McGrath

A humanoid called Pepper has become the first robot to face questions from a House of Commons select committee.

The futuristic bot answered questions from members of the education select committee about the role Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics may have in the classrooms of the future as part of the MPs’ examination into the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and technological disruption.

Pepper, who speaks with a high-pitched male voice, is part of the three-year Caress project, an international effort to produce the world’s first culturally aware robots aimed at assisting with care for older people.

The robot is also working with students at Middlesex University on an initiative involving primary school-level children.

Introducing himself to Robert Halfon, the committee chairman, Pepper bowed and said: “Good morning, chair. Thank you for inviting me to give evidence today.

"My name is Pepper and I am a resident robot at Middlesex University"

Pepper answered the MP’s questions with pre-programmed answers, and responded to questions from committee members including Labour MP James Frith about the role of humans in the fourth industrial revolution.

The android said: "Robots will have an important role to play, but we will always need the soft skills that are unique to humans to sense, make and drive value from technology.

"As technologies fuse, and are used in the ways that were not envisaged before, a new way of thinking is needed for tomorrow's workers."

Thanking the robot for its appearance before the committee, Tory MP Lucy Allan said: “First of all, Pepper, I just want say you're better than some of the ministers we have had before us."