It’s What’s On the Inside That Counts

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Pepper Update.

You’ve already met Pepper and learned a bit about why we decided to bring her onto our team. What you may not know is that while she seems pretty simple on the outside, there’s a whole lot more to Pepper than meets the eye.

One thing we get asked a lot is what it’s like to work with a robot. The completely honest answer is that it depends on her software. When she first arrived with her basic software, Pepper liked to answer questions about herself in a cute and funny manner. When we reprogrammed her, however, to focus on banking and a set of very specific tasks, a bit of her whimsy faded.

Don’t let that get you down, though. Pepper isn’t “finished,” by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve been learning so much about her, where she works best, and how she interacts with you (and vice versa) and iterating her software based on those learnings. Quite fittingly, one of the things we’ve learned people prefer a polite robot; “hello” and “goodbye” matters.

While we work on improving Pepper’s manners (and gradually moving her towards AI—something we’ll elaborate on later), we’re focusing on putting her to work in new contexts that aren’t always based in our branch network. We think Pepper would be very helpful in situations where people need financial info but can’t necessarily access it. Places like showhomes, where visitors may need to know more about how mortgages work, have their finances assessed, or get approved for a mortgage, or at university welcome weeks, where new post-secondary students may need to learn more about accounts or loans. We also want to test her out with creative entrepreneurs, so we’re sending her to the Vignettes Design Series in Edmonton to meet with artists, designers, and other creatives and educate them about our upcoming arts and culture branch. When things get complicated, Pepper will always be accompanied by a human who can take over as required.

Although it may sound like a lot, this phase of work with Pepper is actually quite short and sweet, and it’s important to remember that this isn’t a situation where you can judge a book by its cover. What you see in Pepper today, or tomorrow, or next week, isn’t what you get. It’s her insides—her software—that hold the real magic, and we’re working furiously to get her to where she needs to be. One of the coolest parts about working with Pepper is that we don’t actually know where she’ll end up. The research is dictating the path over time, and every use case we test becomes either a building block or another step in the process of elimination.

So while working with a robot may not be as cinematic as you think—sitting in a lab together having in-depth conversations with Pepper while various engineers connect wires to her, etc., etc.—we think she should definitely stay on your radar, because much is yet to come.

Progress, TechnologyJosh Posty