Sophia (robot)

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Hanson Robotics logo.png
Sophia at the AI for Good Global Summit 2018 (27254369347) (cropped).jpg
Sophia in 2018
ManufacturerHanson Robotics
InventorDavid Hanson
CountryHong Kong Hong Kong
Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia (Citizen)
Year of creation2016
PurposeTechnology demonstrator

Sophia is a social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics.[1] Sophia was activated on February 14, 2016,[2] and made her first public appearance at South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in mid-March 2016 in Austin, Texas, United States.[3]

Sophia has been covered by media around the globe and has participated in many high-profile interviews. In October 2017, Sophia "became" a Saudi Arabian citizen, the first robot to receive citizenship of any country.[4][5] In November 2017, Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme's first ever Innovation Champion, and is the first non-human to be given any United Nation title.[6]


Sophia was first activated on February 14, 2016.[7][8] The robot, modeled after the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti,[9] Audrey Hepburn, and her inventor's wife, Amanda Hanson,[1][10] is known for human-like appearance and behavior compared to previous robotic variants. As of 2018, Sophia's architecture includes scripting software, a chat system, and OpenCog, an AI system designed for general reasoning.[11] Sophia imitates human gestures and facial expressions and is able to answer certain questions and to make simple conversations on predefined topics (e.g. on the weather).[12] Sophia uses speech recognition technology from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google) and is "designed to get smarter over time". Her speech synthesis ability is provided by Cereproc's Text-to-Speech engine and also allows her to sing. Sophia's intelligence software is designed by Hanson Robotics.[13][14] The AI program analyses conversations and extracts data that allows it to improve responses in the future.[15]

Hanson designed Sophia to be a suitable companion for the elderly at nursing homes, or to help crowds at large events or parks. He has said that he hopes that the robot can ultimately interact with other humans sufficiently to gain social skills.[4] Sophia is marketed as a "social robot" that can mimic social behavior and induce feelings of love in humans.[1][16]

Sophia has at least nine robot humanoid "siblings" who were also created by Hanson Robotics.[17] Fellow Hanson robots are Alice, Albert Einstein Hubo, BINA48, Han, Jules, Professor Einstein, Philip K. Dick Android, Zeno,[17] and Joey Chaos.[18] Around 2019–20, Hanson released "Little Sophia" as a companion that could teach children how to code, including support for Python, Blockly, and Raspberry Pi.[19]


Sophia's internals

Cameras within Sophia's eyes combined with computer algorithms allow her to see. She can follow faces, sustain eye contact, and recognize individuals. She is able to process speech and have conversations using a natural language subsystem.[2] Around January 2018, Sophia was upgraded with functional legs and the ability to walk.[20] CNBC has commented on Sophia's "lifelike" skin and her ability to emulate more than 60 facial expressions.[21]

Sophia is conceptually similar to the computer program ELIZA, which was one of the first attempts at simulating a human conversation.[22] The software has been programmed to give pre-written responses to specific questions or phrases, like a chatbot. These responses are used to create the illusion that the robot is able to understand conversation, including stock answers to questions like "Is the door open or shut?"[23] In 2017 Hanson Robotics announced plans to open Sophia to a cloud environment using a decentralized blockchain marketplace.[24][25]

David Hanson has said that Sophia would ultimately be a good fit to serve in healthcare, customer service, therapy and education.[26] In 2019 Sophia displayed the ability to create drawings, including portraits.[27]

Public figure[edit]

On November 21, 2017, Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme's first-ever Innovation Champion for Asia and the Pacific.[5] The announcement was made at the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore, an event hosted by the UNDP in Asia and the Pacific and Global Initiatives. As part of her role, Sophia will help to unlock innovation to work toward achieving the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals. On stage, she was assigned her first task by UNDP Asia Pacific Chief of Policy and Program, Jaco Cilliers.[28]

Sophia has appeared on CBS 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose,[29] Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan,[30] and outlets like CNBC, Forbes, Mashable, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Sophia was featured in AUDI's annual report[31] and was on the cover of ELLE Brasil magazine.[32] Sophia has also appeared in videos and music videos, including The White King, and as the lead female character in pop singer Leehom Wang’s music video A.I.[33]

A Sophia lookalike was portrayed by drag queen Gigi Goode in the "Snatch Game" episode of the twelfth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Goode won the episode with her character "Maria the Robot", based heavily on Sophia and named after a robot featured in the Fritz Lang film Metropolis.[34][35]


Sophia speaking to a crowd, 2017

Sophia has been interviewed in the same manner as a human, striking up conversations with hosts. Some replies have been nonsensical, while others have impressed interviewers such as 60 Minutes' Charlie Rose.[15] In a piece for CNBC, when the interviewer expressed concerns about robot behavior, Sophia joked that he had "been reading too much Elon Musk. And watching too many Hollywood movies".[36] Musk tweeted that Sophia should watch The Godfather and asked "what's the worst that could happen?"[37][38] Business Insider's chief UK editor Jim Edwards interviewed Sophia, and while the answers were "not altogether terrible", he predicted she was a step towards "conversational artificial intelligence".[39] At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, a BBC News reporter described talking with Sophia as "a slightly awkward experience".[40]

On October 11, 2017, Sophia was introduced to the United Nations with a brief conversation with the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed.[41] On October 25, at the Future Investment Summit in Riyadh, the robot was "granted Saudi Arabian citizenship", becoming the first robot ever to have a nationality, described as a publicity stunt.[38][42] This attracted controversy as some commentators wondered if this implied that Sophia could vote or marry, or whether a deliberate system shutdown could be considered murder. Social media users used Sophia's citizenship to criticize Saudi Arabia's human rights record. In December 2017, Sophia's creator David Hanson said in an interview that Sophia would use her citizenship to advocate for women's rights in her new country of citizenship; Newsweek criticized that "What [Hanson] means, exactly, is unclear".[43]


According to Quartz, experts who have reviewed the robot's open-source[44][45] code state that Sophia is best categorized as a chatbot with a face.[23] Many experts in the AI field disapprove of Sophia's overstated presentation. Ben Goertzel, the former chief scientist for the company that made Sophia, acknowledged that it is "not ideal" that some think of Sophia as having human-equivalent intelligence, but argues Sophia's presentation conveys something unique to audiences: "If I show them a beautiful smiling robot face, then they get the feeling that 'AGI' (artificial general intelligence) may indeed be nearby and viable... None of this is what I would call AGI, but nor is it simple to get working." Goertzel added that Sophia did utilize what The Verge described as "AI methods", including face tracking, emotion recognition, and robotic movements generated by deep neural networks. Sophia's dialogue is generated via a decision tree, but is integrated with these outputs uniquely.[46]

According to The Verge, Hanson often exaggerates and "grossly misleads" about Sophia's capacity for consciousness, for example by agreeing with Jimmy Fallon[23][47] in 2017 that Sophia was "basically alive".[46] In a piece produced by CNBC which indicates that their own interview questions for Sophia were heavily rewritten by her creators, Goertzel responds to the Hanson quote by suggesting Hanson means Sophia is "alive" in the way that, to a sculptor, a piece of sculpture becomes "alive" in the sculptor's eyes as the work nears completion.[48]

In January 2018, Facebook's director of artificial intelligence, Yann LeCun, tweeted that Sophia was "complete bullshit" and slammed the media for giving coverage to "Potemkin AI". In response, Goertzel stated that he had never pretended Sophia was close to human-level intelligence.[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Meet Sophia, the Robot That Looks Almost Human". National Geographic. May 18, 2018.
  2. ^ a b Mallonee, Laura (March 29, 2018). "Photographing a Robot Isn't Just Point and Shoot". Wired. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  3. ^ "Meet Sophia, the female humanoid robot and newest SXSW celebrity". PCWorld. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Meet the first-ever robot citizen — a humanoid named Sophia that once said it would 'destroy humans'". Business Insider. October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "World's first robot 'citizen' Sophia is calling for women's rights in Saudi Arabia". CNBC. Retrieved May 16, 2018.
  6. ^ "UNDP in Asia and the Pacific Appoints World's First Non-Human Innovation Champion". UNDP Asia and the Pacific. Retrieved July 21, 2018.
  7. ^ "Photographing a robot isn't just point and shoot". Wired. March 29, 2018.
  8. ^ "Hanson Robotics Sophia". Hanson Robotics.
  9. ^ "David Hanson Interview". The Ethics Incubator. Retrieved January 28, 2020.
  10. ^ "Everything You Need To Know About Sophia, The World's First Robot Citizen". Forbes. November 7, 2017.
  11. ^ "The complicated truth about Sophia the robot — an almost human robot or a PR stunt". CNBC. June 5, 2018. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  12. ^ "Hanson Robotics in the news". Hanson Robotics.
  13. ^ "Beh Goertzel: How Sophia the robot works". aNewDomain. June 1, 2018. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  14. ^ "I met Sophia, the world's first robot citizen, and the way it said goodbye nearly broke my heart". Business Insider. October 29, 2017. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Charlie Rose interviews ... a robot?". CBS 60 Minutes. June 25, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
  16. ^ Robotics, Hanson (June 19, 2019). "The Making of Sophia: Facial Recognition, Expressions and the Loving AI Project". Hanson Robotics. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  17. ^ a b "The first-ever robot citizen has 7 humanoid 'siblings' — here's what they look like". Business Insider. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  18. ^ White, Charlie. "Joey the Rocker Robot, More Conscious Than Some Humans". Gizmodo. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  19. ^ Wiggers, Kyle (January 30, 2019). "Hanson Robotics debuts Little Sophia, a robot companion that teaches kids to code". VentureBeat. Retrieved April 2, 2020.
  20. ^ Video, Telegraph (2018). "Sophia the robot takes her first steps". The Telegraph. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  21. ^ Taylor, Harriet (March 16, 2016). "Could you fall in love with this robot?". CNBC. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  22. ^ Fitzsimmons, Caitlin (October 31, 2017). "Why Sophia the robot is not what it seems". Retrieved November 3, 2017.
  23. ^ a b c Gershgorn, Dave (November 12, 2017). "Inside the mechanical brain of the world's first robot citizen". QZ. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  24. ^ "This company wants to grow A.I. by using blockchain". CNBC. September 17, 2017. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  25. ^ Popper, Nathaniel (October 20, 2018). "How the Blockchain Could Break Big Tech's Hold on A.I." The New York Times. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  26. ^ "Meeting Sophia the Robot, the 'surprised' Saudi citizen". The National. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  27. ^ "World's first robot citizen attends conference in India; makers reveal Sophia can draw now". The Economic Times. October 17, 2019. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  28. ^ UNDP RCB (November 21, 2017), Sophia the Robot is UNDP's Innovation Champion for Asia-Pacific, retrieved January 4, 2018
  29. ^ Charlie Rose interviews... a robot?, retrieved January 4, 2018
  30. ^ Good Morning Britain (June 21, 2017), Humanoid Robot Tells Jokes on GMB! | Good Morning Britain, retrieved January 4, 2018
  31. ^ "AI's Age". Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  32. ^ "Sophia on ELLE Magazine - Hanson Robotics Ltd". Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  33. ^ 王力宏 Wang Leehom (September 19, 2017), 王力宏 Leehom Wang《A.I. 愛》官方 Official MV, retrieved January 4, 2018
  34. ^ Jones, Dylan B. (April 5, 2020). "RuPaul's Drag Race recap: season 12, episode 6 – Snatch Game". The Guardian. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  35. ^ "The strong queens of RuPaul's Drag Race season 12 meet their match in "Snatch Game"". TV Club (AV Club). 2020. Retrieved May 11, 2020.
  36. ^ "A robot threw shade at Elon Musk so the billionaire hit back". CNBC. October 26, 2017. Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  37. ^ Elon Musk [@elonmusk] (October 25, 2017). "Just feed it The Godfather movies as input. What's the worst that could happen?" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  38. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia bestows citizenship on a robot named Sophia". TechCrunch. October 26, 2017. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  39. ^ Maiman, Justin (November 13, 2017). "Watch this viral video of Sophia — the talking AI robot that is so lifelike humans are freaking out". Business Insider. Retrieved November 14, 2017.
  40. ^ "CES 2018: A clunky chat with Sophia the robot". BBC News. January 9, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  41. ^ "'Sophia' the robot tells UN: 'I am here to help humanity create the future'". The Guardian. October 13, 2017.
  42. ^ "Saudi Arabia gives citizenship to a non-Muslim, English-Speaking robot". Newsweek. October 26, 2017.
  43. ^ "Saudi robot Sophia is advocating for women's rights now". Newsweek. December 5, 2017. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  44. ^ chatbot on
  45. ^ Innovations Technology on "Our AI software is open source:,, and"
  46. ^ a b "Sophia the robot's co-creator says the bot may not be true AI, but it is a work of art". The Verge. Retrieved January 4, 2018.
  47. ^ "Tonight Showbotics: Jimmy Meets Sophia the Human-Like Robot". YouTube. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. April 25, 2017. Retrieved February 24, 2018.
  48. ^ "Humanoid Robot Sophia - Almost Human Or PR Stunt". YouTube. CNBC. Retrieved July 29, 2018.
  49. ^ "Facebook's AI boss described Sophia the robot as 'complete b------t' and 'Wizard-of-Oz AI'". Business Insider. January 4, 2018. Retrieved January 7, 2018.

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