SoftBank and IBM Robot Collaboration Explored by Mukesh Valabhji

mukesh valabhjiCognitive computing could soon be coming to Japan after the announcement from SoftBank of a partnership with IBM, bringing the ‘brains’ of IBM’s supercomputer Watson to SoftBank’s social, friendly personal robot called Pepper. Watson has been under development at IBM since 2006 and is a giant, room-sized computer able to process vast quantities of information to produce artificial intelligence. Since being publicly introduced in 2011 Watson has been able to learn enough to beat the top grand champions from the Jeopardy game show. IBM and SoftBank will now be working together to programme Watson to be able to speak, listen and think in Japanese. Pepper was introduced in June of last year and through repeated interactions with humans is able to recognise and analyse tones of voice and facial expressions to identify and understand emotions. As a board member of SoftBank Capital PrinceVille Investments and with broad experience of investing in technology start-ups and innovative tech companies, Mukesh Valabhji is particularly interested in what this collaboration could mean for the role of technology in business and the global impact that this will have.

Mukesh Valabhji serves on a number of boards on top of his position with SoftBank PrinceVille Investments, including Crimson Investment. He has also established several of his own companies throughout his life, from the Seychelles Marketing Board to his latest venture, Capital Management Group. An entrepreneur and professional investor, Mukesh Valabhji has interests in large numbers of properties in several countries, from Samsung Hub and the Finexis Building in Singapore to the latest luxury resort and spa complex in the Seychelles under the Six Senses brand, due to open to the public later this year.

mukesh valabhji

Pepper the Friendly Robot

It is anticipated that robotic technology will become more commonplace and that we will gradually begin to incorporate it into many facets of our lives, including our homes as well as places of business. This will require engineers to develop new ways to present this technology to consumers, ensuring that our interactions with the AI are perceived positively. Pepper is a personal robot designed to become a genuine companion to owners. Standing at 1.2m tall, Pepper has a wheeled base, two arms and a 10.1 inch tablet screen mounted in the chest area. He was created with the aim of making people happy through positive interactions – a social rather than functional household robot.

The main goals of Pepper as he interacts with humans are to help people grow emotionally, facilitate relationships, well-being and kindness and have fun while encouraging contact with the outside world. The name ‘Pepper’ was chosen to express a sparkling personality and facilitate ease of pronouncement across a variety of global languages. While in the minds of his makers robots are genderless and people are able to project a male or female persona onto Pepper as they wish, in the SoftBank shop Pepper is referred to as ‘he’, being more personal than ‘it’. At present Pepper can speak four languages – Japanese, English, Spanish and French – although makers Alderbaran will shortly be introducing more languages as well as new behaviours and additional capabilities to further facilitate interaction.

Watson the Supercomputer

The partnership with IBM enabled Pepper to speak Japanese. Watson is IBM’s huge cognitive computer built to mirror the learning processes of humans, being a cognitive framework that combines observation, interpretation, evaluation and decision-making. Watson is able to take in huge amounts of data from all the sources humans use to communicate, from Tweets to comprehensive research reports. The difference between Watson and humans is not how that information is processed but simply how fast – Watson is able to process vast quantities of information in seconds without being bound by memory or volume.

The main challenge now is getting Watson to understand the Kanji Japanese written system, which contains 6,879 graphical characters. Watson will begin by being ‘taught’ an annotated set of quarter of a million words, which it will then transform into 10,000 diagrammed sentences – where the subject, verb, object and context are identified. Following this any mistakes made by Watson will be corrected and a further 250,000 words taught, with Watson able to learn from its past mistakes. Once a million words are fully understood, researchers will be able to help Watson understand the language and how it should be used in its entirety.

The collaboration between Watson and Pepper will initially fulfil specific business needs and demands, principally in the fields of healthcare, banking, education, insurance and retail. While consumers in the west have been more reluctant to embrace new AI technology in the home compared to those in Asia, the potential for their use in commercial environments looks much more promising.