Taking a robot out for an Italian

Taking a robot out for an Italian

Pepper claims to be the world’s first humanoid robot capable of recognizing human emotions and reacting to them. On 12 July, The Marketing Society Middle East chapter decided to take it out for an Italian meal.

The Marketing Society invited 12 of the top marketers in MENA to the event. The attendees represented brands like P&G, Sony Music, Tetra Pak, and Google. It was their first ever, exclusive access to the humanoid, and an early peek at what robots such as Pepper can do for businesses and brands.

Launched in June 2014, Pepper is designed to have a high-level interface and features that enable it to communicate with those around it. Pepper analyzes expressions and voice tones using the latest advances in voice and emotion recognition - elements already used in quite a few businesses. Pepper can welcome customers, drive traffic, give information about products and services and even collect data.

Francesco Meani, the Group CEO of Fullsix PLC, the company responsible for building solutions using Pepper and other robots, co-hosted the event alongside Mark Leo from Yas Digital Media, Abu Dhabi. Yas Digital Media are exclusive partners of Softbank in UAE – the makers of Pepper.

Pepper can recognize gender; has the ability to sense your emotional response and knows whether you are happy or sad. It can collect at least six different streams of data around it  - including the number of people present. Its software is modular, meaning you can build solutions and application using its OS and hardware capability. So, if you were to plug in a facial recognition application into it, imagine what Pepper would be able to do? Greet your frequent flyers by name at the lounge entrance perhaps?

Our take

So what was our take on Pepper? This robot is fascinating, very capable and full of potential. It can really change the way business applications are developed and incorporated into operations and functions. As far as technology goes, Pepper represents the future. However, technology needs a vision to grow, and it is up to us to imagine and visualize a world where the full breadth of robotics can be explored.

According to Mark Leo, “In a retail environment, a robot is shown to offer four key things – quality, differentiation, reliability and consistency. And this is why we foresee a lot of potential for Pepper. We have many vertical markets identified and we are now working to develop solutions with our clients for these vertical marketplaces.”

Our members thoughts

Alex Brunori, creative head Google MENA, who attended the event said, “Whenever we talk about robots, there is an unconscious bias that makes us think they will substitute human interactions, while they may as well complement or assist them. The most interesting way to look at the concept of a humanoid, interactive robot is not to consider it as a single, self-standing and self-contained unit. A robot in its most effective conception is just a vessel, an interface with us humans and the physical world that is connected beyond its individuality with a wider, online artificial intelligence.”

Matthew Horobin, Head of Digital Media, Dubai Airports, believed the adoption of robots in a retail environment would be gradual. He said, “Use of AI does bring some clear advantages such as multilingual support, 24/7 operating capabilities and consistency in interaction delivery. However, at this time, we see our customers continuing to seek genuine human interaction.”

Alex Malouf of P&G analyzed the future of the marketing function, should robots come into action. He said, “I think the big change will also be to the marketing function, because robots take all of the interactions that they have had and they retain data which can be used by marketers to understand how the interaction went; and they can use that data to programme the robot, change the store layout and design, or change products.”

The future of Artificial Intelligence is nigh, and though robots or humanoids are in the very early stages of their design, the speed of progress in this area will be fast. The adoption of AI will depend not only on our capability to imagine the applications of this technology, but also our ability to accept them. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain - we will not be able to avoid this technology permeating our lives for very long.


Asad ur Rehman is Director of Media at Unilever MENA, and is Chair, The Marketing Society Middle East. This article was published in The Marketing Society Online Clubhouse.

To find out more about The Marketing Society Middle East, please email Alasdair Hall-Jones, head of membership & global - [email protected]