Sophia was created by Hanson Robotics, a company based in Hong Kong. Its name was presumably chosen because it has its origin in the Greek word for wisdom, which Sophia’s creator Dr David Hanson hopes it will accumulate (it’s surprisingly difficult to refer to Sophia as ‘it’ and not ‘she’, by the way). Sophia is an android, a robot that is designed to look and act like a human. Dr Hanson used to work for Disney as a sculptor and technical consultant, but his passion is for creating what he calls genius machines.
“I quest to realize Genius Machines—machines with greater than human intelligence, creativity, wisdom, and compassion” (Dr David Hanson).
And Sophia certainly seems to be that. It has appeared on television numerous times, given interviews, debated at conferences and even appeared on the cover of a fashion magazine. Sophia can emulate more than 60 facial expressions and its realistic-looking skin is made from silicon. Sophia can interact with people thanks to Google Chrome voice recognition technology and other programmes and algorithms, and it is able to learn from these interactions.
In June 2017 Sophia spoke at a global summit entitled AI for Good, which was attended by representatives of government, industry, UN agencies, civil society and the AI research community. AI stands for Artificial Intelligence, and some people are afraid that as robots and other AIs become gradually more intelligent they will surpass and eventually threaten humanity. The advances in AI technology also prompt questions such as whether AI is a form of life, what consciousness and thinking really are, and whether entities like Sophia should have rights.
Whatever your feelings on artificial intelligence, it’s undeniable that it’s already here. And I don’t just mean androids like Sophia and its peers, but also devices and programmes such as Siri, Cortana and Alexa, which have similar voice recognition programmes and learning capabilities. Of course none of these have yet passed the Turing test, but perhaps it’s merely just a matter of time.
Featured image by ITU Pictures