Pepper the robot just wants to help spice up our lives, really
Pepper the robot might have human-like features, speak like a person and dance better than most people, but it promises it is not here to replace us.
In fact, the first humanoid robot in South Africa says it will do precisely the opposite.
On Wednesday, Pepper, built by SoftBank Robotics in Tokyo, told delegates at the Sustainability Week conference at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria what it hoped to achieve.
"My function is to support, inform, enhance and help humans ... with tasks and jobs that have become routine," said the robot, which will set you back R500,000.
There are currently three Peppers in the country — Vodacom and Nedbank each have one.
The third belongs to Scott Giles, founder of technology company Deftech, who imports the machines and says they are emotional communicative robots, "meaning she will communicate with you".
(There appears to be some gender confusion — the SoftBank website refers to Pepper as "he".)
"She looks for your face and reads your emotions and can talk to you," Giles said.
"She's completely programmable and has a little bit of artificial intelligence, such as facial recognition and understanding and learning voices."
Pepper, which has an interactive screen on its chest, is preloaded with about 100 phrases but can be programmed to say almost anything in the languages it speaks. It can be loaded with applications that allow it to wave, point or display maps or other images.
"Pepper is by no means going to take over the world," Giles said. "We programme her to do what she does. She can't bring you a cup of coffee in the morning or clean your floor, so holding weapons is not going to happen.
"Pepper is here to assist. We find a lot of people being utilised in positions that are mundane and repetitive when they could be better used within the company. Pepper fits into that frontline where she can help with these types of jobs."
Mall of Africa spokesman Michael Clampett said the mall planned to get a Pepper robot and test it as a way of logging complaints from consumers, giving directions and making recommendations.
"Helping consumers log complaints could be big, but we would also like Pepper to assist with giving information on movies, finding shops and recommending restaurants."
WATCH | Meet Pepper, SA's first humanoid robot
Nedbank spokeswoman Kedibone Molopyane said the bank would use its robot to engage with clients on products and services, "as well as our digital and self-service offerings". She added: "We believe Pepper will enrich clients' experiences as a digital ambassador for Nedbank."
Vodacom spokesman Byron Kennedy said the company was working "closely with the respective vendors to better understand how Pepper might enhance customer experience".
Jacques Ludik, president of the Machine Intelligence Institute of Africa, said robots should "serve us as humans" and be used to "shape a better future".
He added: "One needs to be super careful. I would like to see the technology used in a different way than creating humanoids.
"Should we take AI to computers that look like us? I'm concerned about that because I'm worried about where it might go."..