A House of Commons select committee questioned a robot, called ‘Pepper’ for the first time in Westminster this week.

The education committee is examining what the future may look like and whether our young people will be prepared for the onset of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution,’ which refers to technological developments in several fields.

Many saw it as just a publicity stunt, headlines such as ‘first time robot questioned by UK parliament’ etc appeared around the world.

But, Robert Halfon, MP, the chair of the committee, said it was a way of showing the good work being done in this field in the UK.

Pepper is part of a three-year international research project called Caress, which is developing the world’s first culturally aware robots aimed at assisting with care for older people.

The robot also works with students at Middlesex University, which includes an initiative involving teaching primary school-level children.

The Committee was set up to try and understand how new technologies of the so called Fourth Industrial Revolution, now emerging more rapidly than ever before will change our lives.   Technologies such as AI, automation, machine learning, robotics and blockchain, to name just some. How will millions of jobs as we know them change or disappear?   The conclusion that many have come to – it is bound to change our lives and the way we live for ever. Going forward it will be vital to re-skill and teach the new skills needed for our ‘brave new world.’

As Pepper began its programmed responses. Robert Halfon joked, “This is not the House of Commons education committee auditioning for the sequel to The Matrix.”

Introducing itself, Pepper bowed and then said: “Good morning, chair. Thank you for inviting me to give evidence today.

“My name is Pepper and I am a resident robot at Middlesex University.”

One committee member asked Pepper how robots might assist with learning in schools in the future.

The Robot responded, “At Middlesex University I work closely on projects with final year students from robotics, psychology, biomedicine and education.

“Students program me to engage with audiences and a range of environments and social settings.

“For example, Joanna and I are working together to adapt my interfaces to work with primary school children with, or without special needs, to develop their numeracy skills.

Asked whether humans would have a place in this brave new world, Pepper replied, “Robots will have an important role to play, but we will always need the soft skills that are unique to humans to sense, make and drive value from technology.”

“As technologies fuse, and are used in the ways that were not envisaged before, a new way of thinking is needed for tomorrow’s workers.”

On expert writing for ‘Wired’ said: –

“As technologies fuse, and are used in the ways that were not envisaged before, a new way of thinking is needed for tomorrow’s workers. Now, large-scale automation is a complex topic. Its consequences for multiple aspects of human society – from labour, to defence, to healthcare, to, of course, education – are assumed to be profound and certain to be unpredictable. Talking about it can feel frustrating, as views on its real impact vary wildly, and beget a thousand different recommendations. Will robots steal our jobs, or create more employment opportunities? Are we ready for it? How should we gird our loins for the forthcoming disruption? Who knows, really?