National

SoftBank robot Pepper appears before U.K. Parliament, sparking lively debate

AFP-JIJI

Pepper, Japan’s talking robot, appeared in Britain’s Parliament — a first for such a humanoid — on Tuesday, prompting Twitter users to seize the chance to heap more mockery on Prime Minister Theresa May.

The latest round of public amusement at the expense of the U.K. leader came during a committee hearing on artificial intelligence (AI) and “the fourth industrial revolution.”

MPs on the education committee invited SoftBank Group Corp.’s Pepper robot to answer some basic questions.

Asked whether humans would have a place in a brave new world where AI reigns supreme, Pepper responded in a reassuring voice.

“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,” the robot said in fluent English.

The robot was asked about a few more completely unscripted matters before panelists moved on to discuss ethics and social injustice.

Pepper listened and twirled its head a few times during the discussions.

Comparisons to the May’s propensity to dance in a robotic manner and speak with methodical precision — traits that have earned her the nickname “Maybot” — quickly appeared on social media.

“That’s fantastic … but can it do the Maybot,” asked someone named Hugh Duffy on Twitter.

“Theresa May is looking almost human these days,” Benedict Smyth offered.

And even the popular Politics Home website chipped in with: “NEW: A witness gave a robotic performance in front of a Commons committee … but it wasn’t Theresa May.”

The U.K.’s leader has become the subject of periodic jokes on social networks as she struggles for pull her country out of the European Union while minimizing damage.

She has particularly taken to dancing — something she did twice during an August trade mission to Africa and then at a Tory party conference this month.

But her moves did not earn high marks from bemused Britons. Her presentation style has also spawned an entire family of Maybot Twitter accounts pretending to speak in the prime minister’s name.