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Pepper the robot welcomes guests at City Hall in Paris. Photo: BSIP SA/Alamy Stock Photo

Ishiguro’s AI tale for our times

Klara and the Sun is narrated by a robot who looks after a sick teenager. But the real drama is at the edge of the story

By Miranda France   April 2021

A recent BBC science report showed Pepper, a “culturally competent” robot, interacting with residents of a care home. One of them, Peter, was encouraged to reminisce about the war while Pepper, four feet tall and cute as a button, nodded encouragingly and blinked its big, Disney eyes. It seemed to be listening to Peter and perhaps it was also doing other useful things, like monitoring his blood pressure and heart rate, or checking for signs of macular degeneration. We’ve been anticipating and dreading the age of the robot for more than a hundred years. Now, in car plants and care homes, it’s finally dawning. How long before robots like Pepper acquire that quality we prize so highly in humans and fear in machines: emotional intelligence? Is it only a matter of time before Pepper can roll its neon eyes and say: “Oh please, not the doodlebugs again, Grandad”?

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