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Robot named Pepper amuses Shoppers in San Francisco, but how Practical is it?

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FILE - Visitors crowd around Pepper, a companion robot, during the World Robot Conference in Beijing. China, Oct. 21, 2016. VOA

While merrily chirping, dancing and posing for selfies, a robot named Pepper looks like another expensive toy at a San Francisco mall. But don’t dismiss it as mere child’s play.

Pepper embodies the ambitions of SoftBank Robotics, an Asian joint venture formed by a trio of major technology companies that’s aiming to put its personable robots in businesses and homes across the U.S. over the next few years.

If the technology advances as Softbank Robotics hopes, Pepper could become a playmate, companion and concierge. It could eventually respond to voice commands to retrieve vital information, make reservations and control home appliances that are connected to the internet.

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That’s the theory, anyway. For now, Pepper is more amusing than practical, Forrester Research analyst J.P. Gownder said.

For instance, Pepper has been directing shoppers to stores in the mall through text messages because it still isn’t advanced enough to say them out loud. And Pepper still has trouble understanding what people are asking, requiring shoppers to type in their requests for mall directions on a tablet mounted on the robot’s chest.

SoftBank is trying to improve Pepper’s capabilities by focusing first on the business market — retailers, hotels, auto dealerships and even hospitals. SoftBank hopes to use those environments to learn more about what consumers like and don’t like about Pepper and, from that, teach it more tasks, said Steve Carlin, the venture’s vice president for marketing and business development in North America.

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Mall encounters

The recently launched test runs in Westfield Corp.’s malls in San Francisco and Santa Clara, California, mark the first time that Pepper has made an extended appearance in the U.S. The robots began appearing just before Thanksgiving and will stick around through mid-February.

Carlin said about 300 to 500 people per day engaged with Pepper during its first month in the San Francisco mall. During a recent visit, kids flocked around the 4-foot-tall humanoid as it spoke in a cherubic voice that could belong to either a boy or girl.

Westfield views Pepper as a way to make shopping in the mall more entertaining and enjoyable at a time when people are increasingly buying merchandise online. Three Peppers are sprinkled in heavily trafficked areas around Westfield’s San Francisco mall and the two more are in the Santa Clara center. If all goes well, Westfield also plans to bring Pepper to its New York mall at the World Trade Center and the Garden State mall in Paramus, New Jersey.

“We put her in our [human resources] system and have given her a name tag,” said Shawn Pauli, senior vice president for Westfield.

Japan, Europe

Pepper got its start two years ago in Japan before expanding into Europe. In those two markets, more than 10,000 Peppers are already operating in grocery stores, coffee shops, banks, cruise lines, railway stations and homes. Most of the robots are in businesses. SoftBank hasn’t disclosed how many have been sold to consumers.

Carlin acknowledged the U.S. would be a tougher market to crack than Japan, where he said consumers tend to embrace new technology more quickly.

In addition, Pepper’s price is likely to be out of reach for most consumers. The robot currently sells for about $2,000; a three-year subscription covering software upgrades, insurance and technology support increases the total to $18,000 to $20,000.

Softbank Robotics is controlled by Japan’s Softbank Group, a technology conglomerate that recently pledged to invest $50 billion in U.S. startups. A remaining 40 percent stake is equally owned by China’s Alibaba Group, Asia’s e-commerce leader, and by Taiwan’s Foxconn, which assembles Apple’s iPhone and is considering a U.S. expansion.

‘LoweBot’ has an edge

Despite its pedigree, Pepper already lags behind a cruder-looking robot that home improvement retailer Lowe’s has been testing as a way to help shoppers find merchandise in its sprawling stores, Gownder said.

The “LoweBot,” a box-like machine on wheels, began patrolling a San Jose, California, store last month and will begin showing up in 10 other stores in the San Francisco Bay area in early 2017. If all goes well, it could become a fixture in all Lowe’s stores.

Gownder gives LoweBot the early edge over Pepper because Lowe’s machine has a detailed database of the store’s inventory, enabling it to quickly determine whether something is in stock and then guide shoppers to the aisle where the requested item is located.

“While Pepper offers a lively, appealing interface, it remains to be seen whether it will fill the role that retailers want,” Gownder said. “Does it have enough intelligence to answer customers’ questions effectively?”

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Greater ambitions

While LoweBot is a one-trick pony, focused on retail tasks, SoftBank’s ambitions with Pepper are greater. Pepper has enough artificial intelligence to recognize smiles and frowns, helping the robot understand the mood of a person interacting with it. But it also tends to lock its electronic eyes on someone standing in front of it and continue to follow people as they look away while ignoring the next visitor.

A recent visitor to the San Francisco mall, Sharif Ezzat, noticed some of Pepper’s shortcomings and concluded that the robot is still a long way from having mass appeal.

“I can’t see it right now, but I can see where it’s going,” Ezzat said of Pepper’s potential.

Chaz MacSwan, a puppeteer in San Francisco, was more impressed.

“Look at the joy it’s bringing to people, especially the kids,” MacSwan said. “I’d love to have one, especially if it could clean the carpets.” (VOA)

 

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Important Tips to Follow if you wish to Expand Business Overseas

Want to spread your business overseas? Here is all you need to do for Spreading your business internationally.

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Tips to expand business overseas
Tips to expand business overseas. Flickr

One of the first things people notice when they branch out into doing business internationally is how big a role social norms play in business dealings. It’s the same in North America, but the contrast is much more jarring when dealing with a new country, new etiquette, and new expectations. Whether you are applying for financing from a lender or opening a new branch of your business overseas, it’s important to understand that how you conduct yourself can have a profound impact on the success (or failure) of your business. Here are a few general guidelines to help you conduct business in a variety of regions around the world.

In Asian boardrooms, meeting participants will typically be arranged by seniority. This is also the order in which they should be greeted, and the order in which you should pass out your business cards. This is a sign of respect. Speaking of business cards, be prepared to hand out many more in Asia than you would in North America. There is a ceremony around exchanging business cards in countries such as Japan. Be sure to invest in a business card case, as it is seen as rude and inappropriate to keep them in your wallet or pocket.

In some Middle Eastern countries, note that it is quite normal for a male client or colleague to grasp another man’s hand while walking together. Although this may seem unusual to North American sensibilities, it’s considered a sign of trust in some parts of the world.

It’s also a good idea to bear in mind that questions that may be perceived in North America as being simple small talk may actually consider quite rude and intrusive in some countries, such as questions about marital status, children, age, etc. In professional situations, it’s always best to err on the side of being too impersonal rather than to risk being considered nosey.

Gift-giving in a business setting is complicated in some cultures. In some cases, for example, it is considered improper to open a gift in front of the giver, so be aware of that if you are presented with a gift.

Manners are a very big point of difference among different cultures. For example, it is perfectly acceptable and actually expected, that diners will eat a sandwich with a knife and fork. Similarly, belching and slurping one’s food is considered rude in some cultures, but quite acceptable in others. It is considered socially unacceptable in countries such as Japan to be seen blowing one’s nose in public.

When it comes to professional attire, you can never go wrong erring on the side of conservative, no matter where you are in the world. Women should take special care to dress more modestly, as it can be a serious culture misstep to dress too revealingly.

When you do business with other countries, it’s important to know the business and legal issues that may arise, but never forget that business is, as the heart of things, a people-first endeavor. The more you can be aware of and respectful of the social expectations, manners, and etiquette in the region in which you are doing business, the more professional you will be perceived. And that can go a long way toward helping you to solidify meaningful business connections around the world. If you aren’t sure how to act or what to do, always educate yourself before you arrive. Not only do you not want to look foolish, you also don’t want to be insulting. There are lots of resources online and in books to help you navigate these challenging waters.

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Stephen Hawking believes Technology could end Poverty and Disease, says Artificial Intelligence could be the Worst or Best things for Humanity

Hawking said everyone has a role to play in making sure that this generation and the next are fully engaged with the study of science at an early level to create “a better world for the whole human race.”

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Stephen Hawking
Cosmologist Stephen Hawking delivers a video message during the inauguration of Web Summit, Europe's biggest tech conference, in Lisbon, Portugal, Nov. 6, 2017. (VOA)

Lisbon, November 7, 2017 : Technology can hopefully reverse some of the harm caused to the planet by industrialization and help end disease and poverty, but artificial intelligence (AI) needs to be controlled, physicist Stephen Hawking said on Monday.

Hawking, a British cosmologist who was diagnosed with motor neuron disease aged 21, said technology could transform every aspect of life but cautioned that artificial intelligence poses new challenges.

He said artificial intelligence and robots are already threatening millions of jobs — but this new revolution could be used to help society and for the good of the world such as alleviating poverty and disease.

“The rise of AI could be the worst or the best thing that has happened for humanity,” Stephen Hawking said via telepresence at opening night of the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon that is attended by about 60,000 people.

“We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management and prepare for its consequences well in advance.”

Hawking’s comments come during an escalating debate about the pro and cons of artificial intelligence, a term used to describe machines with a computer code that learns as it goes.

ALSO READ Humanity’s days are numbered, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will cause mass extinction, warns Stephen Hawking

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Inc and rocket company SpaceX, has warned that AI is a threat to humankind’s existence.

But Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, in a rare interview recently, told the WSJ Magazine that there was nothing to panic about.

Stephen Hawking said everyone has a role to play in making sure that this generation and the next are fully engaged with the study of science at an early level to create “a better world for the whole human race.”

ALSO READ Indian Origin Scientist Part of the team that Developed Nanotechnology-based Test that quickly Detects Zika Virus

“We need to take learning beyond a theoretical discussion of how AI should be, and take action to make sure we plan for how it can be,” said Stephen Hawking, who communicates via a cheek muscle linked to a sensor and computerized voice system.

“You all have the potential to push the boundaries of what is accepted, or expected, and to think big. We stand on the threshold of a brave new world. It is an exciting — if precarious — place to be and you are the pioneers,” he said. (VOA)

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Northeast is Fast Emerging as the new Start-up Destination, Says Minister Jitendra Singh

Due to improvement in connectivity and transport facility in the last two years, coupled with concentrated administrative focus, more and more youngsters are now heading towards the northeastern states to venture into entrepreneurship

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Union Minister of State for Development of the North Eastern Region Jitendra Singh. Wikimedia

New Delhi, October 16, 2017 : Union Minister of State for Development of the North Eastern Region (DoNER) Jitendra Singh claimed that the area was fast emerging as the new start-up destination for youngsters from all over India, an official statement on Monday.

Due to improvement in connectivity and transport facility in the last two years, coupled with concentrated administrative focus, more and more youngsters are now heading towards the northeastern states to venture into entrepreneurship and take advantage of its unexplored potential, he said, according to a DoNER Ministry statement.

Citing an example, he said in certain areas of Northeast, including states like Arunachal Pradesh, “while almost 40 per cent of the fruit goes waste on account of lack of adequate storage and transport facilities, the same can be used to produce and manufacture fresh and pure fruit juice at a much more cost-effective price”.

ALSO READ Over 4,000 km of roads, highways to be constructed in northeast

During an interaction with youngsters, Jitendra Singh also pointed out that many new airports coming up at Pakyong (Sikkim), Itanagar and Shillong, which along with a time-bound plan to lay broad-gauge rail track, would bring in further ease of doing business.

“Another sector of entrepreneurship which is fast emerging in Northeast is the medical and healthcare sector.

“For years, there has been a trend for patients to shift outside the region, mostly to Kolkata or Vellore, but the encouragement given to the private corporate sector has now resulted in the opening of new hospitals within the region itself and young entrepreneurs are taking the lead,” he said. (IANS)