Sophia is a social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics. Sophia was activated on April 19, 2015 and made her first public appearance at South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in mid-March 2016 in Austin, Texas, United States. She is able to display more than 50 facial expressions.
Sophia has been covered by media around the globe and has participated in many high-profile interviews. In October 2017, Sophia, the robot became the first robot to receive citizenship of any country. In November 2017, Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme's first ever Innovation Champion, and the first non-human to be given any United Nations title.
Sophia was activated on April 19, 2015. The robot, modeled after actress Audrey Hepburn, is known for her human-like appearance and behavior compared to previous robotic variants. According to the manufacturer, David Hanson, Sophia uses artificial intelligence, visual data processing and facial recognition. Sophia also 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). Sophia uses voice recognition (speech-to-text) technology from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google) and is designed to get smarter over time. Sophia's intelligence software is designed by SingularityNET. The AI program analyses conversations and extracts data that allows her to improve responses in the future.
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.
Sophia has seven robot humanoid “siblings” who were also created by Hanson Robotics. Fellow Hanson robots are Alice, Albert Einstein Hubo, BINA48, Han, Jules, Professor Einstein, Philip K. Dick Android, Zeno, and Joey Chaotic.
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. Around January 2018 Sophia was upgraded with functional legs and the ability to walk.
Sophia is conceptually similar to the computer program ELIZA, which was one of the first attempts at simulating a human conversation. 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?" The information is shared in a cloud network which allows input and responses to be analysed with blockchain technology.
David Hanson has said that Sophia would ultimately be a good fit to serve in healthcare, customer service, therapy and education. Sophia runs on artificially intelligent software that is constantly being trained in the lab, so her conversations are likely to get faster, Sophia's expressions are likely to have fewer errors, and she should answer increasingly complex questions with more accuracy.
On November 21, 2017 Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme’s first ever Innovation Champion for Asia and the Pacific. 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.
Sophia has appeared on CBS 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose, Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan, 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 and was on the cover of ELLE Brasil magazine. 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.
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. 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". Musk tweeted that Sophia should watch The Godfather and asked "what's the worst that could happen?" Business Insider's chief UK editor Jim Edwards interviewed Sophia, and while the answers were "not altogether terrible", he predicted it was a step towards "conversational artificial intelligence". At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, a BBC News reporter described talking with Sophia as "a slightly awkward experience".
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. 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. 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. As expressed by Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, "Women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around [without a male guardian]. Saudi law doesn’t allow non-Muslims to get citizenship. Did Sophia convert to Islam? What is the religion of this Sophia and why isn’t she wearing hijab? If she applied for citizenship as a human she wouldn’t get it." It has been countered that not being a Muslim is not a formal barrier to being a Saudi citizen, though officials may take it into consideration at their discretion. 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".
Controversy over hype in the scientific community
According to Quartz, experts who have reviewed the robot's open-source code state that Sophia is best categorized as a chatbot with a face. Many experts in the AI field disapprove of Sophia's overstated presentation. Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist for the company that made Sophia, acknowledges 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 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.
According to The Verge, Hanson often exaggerates and "grossly misleads" about Sophia's capacity for consciousness, for example by agreeing with Jimmy Fallon in 2017 that Sophia was "basically alive". In a piece produced by CNBC which indicates that their own interview questions for Sophia were heavily rewritten by her creators, Geortzel 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.
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.
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