Being NAO

Can you do the Gangnam style dance for an hour? How good and patient are you at answering the same questions over and over again? No matter how confident you are about your dancing talent, social and behavioral skills, or patience, NAO can be your toughest competitor. Here is the reason – intelligence, integrity, dedication, hard work, and the right temperament, neither you nor I have them all together in balanced proportions. In a stark contrast, NAO, the Watson-powered smart humanoid, has all these and many more qualities that we cannot stop revering.  NAO is the first robot that can “develop and display emotions”. When sad, it hunches its shoulders and looks down, but raises its arms for a hug when happy. When scared, NAO cowers and stays in the same position for some time.

IBM’s Watson-powered NAO, a highly-advanced AI-powered robot, is a trailblazing invention and a pivotal shift in human-machine interaction. IBM Watson first wowed the tech-world by beating two of Jeopardy’s best champions in 2011. It has come a long way since the epic triumph.

NAO was first developed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French robotics company in Paris. IBM’s Watson-enabled NAO robot is a highly advanced and promising merge of cognitive capabilities and robotics. It’s less than two feet tall and looks like a one year old kid. But NAO can walk on two legs, speak, dance, do push-ups, recognize people, and even read boarding passes. Doesn’t that make it a rock star robot? It is indeed one, and not yet another ordinary robot that you might have seen or read about. A interactive, multilingual, and user-friendly humanoid robot, NAO can surprise you beyond belief with the flawlessness with which it recognizes human speech patterns.  Dancing has never been the forte of any robot or humanoid, but NAO can really get down and boogie, and look great doing it.  Does that mean NAO has a super impressive brain like yours and mine? Perhaps that’s a long-term goal that IBM team might be working on currently.

Robots have been serving us in many industries. What makes NAO different from the rest is the brilliant use of cutting-edge APIs, including Dialog, Speech to Text, Text to Speech, Text to Speech, and Natural Language Classifier.

Those who are lucky to visit some of the top Hilton hotels in the world can find Connie, a NAO robot, hard at work at the front desk, interacting with every guest using advanced natural language processing. It shares information, offer personalized recommendations, entertains visitors, helping them find rooms, and even translating enquires for the staff thus giving an impressive feast in robotics, AI, and cognitive computing. Moreover, it can store questions and answers for further reference. If you are wondering what’s unique about Connie, the smart humanoid can literally answer everything that you want to know about Hilton’s services. It can learn from interactions, remember faces, respond based on facial expressions or body language, and develop a distinct personality of its own using highly advanced IBM software for speech recognition.  In other words, unlike robotic velociraptor toys used in Henn-na Hotel, one can have a natural conversation with Connie, though you must ask questions to elicit responses.

Will such humanoids replace humans and take our jobs sooner or later? This though on the growing risks of mechanization and rise in unemployment might have crossed your mind at least once. Job-seekers across the world face some serious threats from AI-powered automatons that are taking over jobs traditionally done by humans.  Some jobs might disappear, but overall future is not as bad as many believe. According to experts, AI and automation can spur the growth of many new job categories with thousands of potential opportunities, wherein humans will work side-by-side with humanoids like NAO.

Banks and hotels with NAO robots have a relatable reason to use the AI-enhanced humanoids. Connie at the Hilton McLean reduces nearly 150 different routine questions that front-desk staffers get each day. It helps them check in guests faster, avoids long queue at front-desk, enhances operational efficiency, along with providing a little fun for each guest.

NAO is a busy bee these days. It helps researches in hospitals, conducts comedy routines, grooms animals, and even goes to school to help children with autism. Aldebaran Robotics’ ASK NAO (Autism Solution for Kids) helps autistic children improve their social interactions, verbal and non-verbal communication, emotional intelligence, and even basic academic skills.

Robotics, nanotechnology, AI, and the whole host of steadily advancing technologies are never a threat to humans. None of us live with the presumption that our jobs are super-secure, nor do we ever get cozy or lackadaisical at work.  So why carry an irrational fear or distrust about emerging technologies? Every new technology takes us a step-forward and improves our lives in several ways. There could be short term job losses, but never a doomsday situation.  Machines cannot replace humans in tasks that need creativity, problem solving and flexibility. Shouldn’t close-minded luddites stop crying wolf all the time and start looking at the better side technological advancements like AI? Shouldn’t we have more NAOs and Peppers (a humanoid with the ability to read emotions)?

Human fascination with robots that look like humans is not new. Remember Vicki Lawson from Small Wonder? The TV show came out in 1985 and is ranked as an all-time hit for fascinating its audience with the idea of a human-like robot. We are now getting closer to turning such science fictions into reality.

That’s exciting, right?


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