Robot to appear before UK Parliament as a witness for the first time

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Robot to appear before UK parliament as a witness for the first time

The robot is to be questioned by MPs as part of an inquiry into artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and the fourth industrial revolution.

Representatives from Middlesex University will take Pepper the robot to appear as a witness before the UK parliament next week.

The Commons Education Select Committee is due to hold an evidence session on 16th October.

SoftBank Robotics’ Pepper, a semi-humanoid robot, will be one of many witnesses set to be questioned by MPs.

According to committee chair, Robert Halfon, some industry analysts are predicting that jobs will be lost to automation in the near future, so an inquiry into the topic is becoming increasingly important.

He told Tes.com: “If we’ve got the march of the robots, we perhaps need the march of the robots to our select committee to give evidence.”

He added: “If you think we are going to be the living version of the Matrix, it is not going to be like that. But I think it will be exciting, interesting and it’s basically showing what the potential is.”

Halfon admitted that exactly how Pepper would interact with the committee – i.e. pre-programmed to answer specific questions – was still being worked out.

Halfon believes that Pepper the robot’s evidence will be beneficial in helping MPs to better understand their inquiry into AI. He said: “The fourth industrial revolution is possibly the most important challenge facing our nation over the next 10, 20 to 30 years.”

Other witnesses giving evidence at the inquiry include Joysy John, director of education at Nesta, Brian Holliday, MD at Siemens Digital Factory and Joana Miranda, robotics student, Middlesex University.

However, AI researchers are criticising it as a thoughtless publicity stunt:

“Modern robots are not intelligent and so can’t testify in any meaningful way, this is just a puppet show,” reported computer scientist and researcher, Roman Yampolskiy.

“A person or corporation is committing perjury by pretending a robot is giving evidence, or this is just a media circus not governance. Which is it?” said researcher Joanna Bryson on Twitter.

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