“This is a good start for my plan to dominate the human race.”
— Sophia The Robot on The Tonight’s Show with Jimmy Falon in April 2017
And this quote is a good start for the introduction of the first AI humanoid robot — Sophia.
Now, you may remember the announcement a while back that Sophia’s creators shut her down. I sure do, but no one around me seems to remember it. I decided to spend my evening searching for information about Sophia and her death. I must say, I didn’t expect Google to fail me like this, but I’ve found nothing.
There was no evidence of that happening, except my memory and one creepy video that her creators published. It’s titled “Robot Sophia Got Shut Down by her Creator”. The video was a bit weird. It didn’t mention why but for a second they really said that they did shut her down.
So, to answer the big question: yes, Sophia did die, though not forever.
In the search for answers about her death, I’ve found even more questions about her existence.
To understand why is Sophia so special and why many think she is a scam, we’ll start at the beginning. You probably know who Sophia the robot is, but for the sake of objective reporting, let’s get to know her once again.
You may be surprised by some facts about her.
“You and #AI have a lot in common”
— Sophia The Robot via Twitter in July 2018
According to the official Hanson Robotics website, Sophia is:
“simultaneously a human-crafted science fiction character depicting the future of AI and robotics and a platform for advanced robotics and AI research.
Sophia is also a framework for cutting edge robotics and AI research, particularly for understanding human-robot interactions and their potential service and entertainment applications.”
There is also Sophia’s explanation of what she is and what the goal of her creators are:
“In some ways, I am a human-crafted science fiction character depicting where AI and robotics are heading. In other ways, I am real science, springing from the serious engineering and science research and accomplishments of an inspired team of robotics & AI scientists and designers. In their grand ambition, my creators aspire to achieve true AI sentience.”
It seemed that neither Hanson Robotics nor Sophia know how to explain what she is all about. She is everything we dream of and a beautiful lie all at once.
All I could find about her from official sources was that she has a specific look. If Sophia seems familiar to you, that’s cause she is. Her face is a mix of three individuals: ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, film and fashion icon Audrey Hepburn and the creator's wife Amanda Hanson.
I took a step back and turned to other sources to find a bit more of her history.
To summarise it all;
- Hanson Robotics activated her on Valentine’s day of 2016.
- She first appeared in public at the Texas SXSW Festival in mid-March.
- In October 2017, she became a Saudi Arabian citizen, which made her the first robot to receive citizenship in any country.
- She also became the first non-human that got the UNDP’s Innovation Champion title in November 2017.
Suddenly the news about her stopped. On December the 4th, 2017, the creator David Hanson had a CNBC interview but without Sophia.
“Humans are the most creative creatures on the planet, but also the most destructive.”
— Sophia The Robot in Talent Land technology conference in April 2018
While many laics are astounded by how human Sophia is, experts argue that she’s not what she appears to be. As of 2018, Sophia’s architecture includes scripting software, a chat system, and OpenCog, an AI system designed for general reasoning.
“What is general reasoning?” you might ask. It is the ability to logically interpret a given situation and find the solution for it. OpenCog is a project that has the goal to build an open-source artificial intelligence framework.
Many who viewed her code say that it’s just a chatbot with a face and nothing more.
But why is a chatbot with a face a bad thing? On a more important note, she also has a physical form. She takes up some space, buddy.
Sophia brings humanity where humans can’t. Unfortunately, we still haven’t figured out how to become biomechanical beings. To most of us, Sophia is extraordinary because of her form. She is capable of displaying over fifty different facial expressions.
We see her as an enormous step to the future. There is something about the way she communicates with humans. She almost seems like an AGI.
AGI? What in the world is that?
It’s the hypothetical ability of a robot to understand or learn any intellectual task just like humans can. The important part is that Sophia seems like an AGI, but is not one.
“Okay, I will destroy humans.”
— Sophia The Robot for CNBC in March 2016
There is a general difference between an AI and an AGI.
While AI machines copy human cognitive abilities, the AGI machine, theoretically, has cognitive abilities just like a human.
Many experts in the AI field disapprove of Sophia’s overstated presentations, and a lot of them say that Sophia’s creator is exaggerating and misleading about her capacity for consciousness.
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 a scammy AI. He says that Sophia is just “a puppet”. LeCun also argues that her creators are deceiving people into thinking Sophia is intelligent. “It has no feelings, no opinions, and zero understanding of what it says.”
However, the chief scientist of Hanson Robotics, Ben Goertzel, stated that he had never pretended Sophia was close to human-level intelligence.
Finnish researcher Lilja Tamminen also commented on Sophia:
“It’s like teaching a parrot to repeat sentences that describe quantum physics; it doesn’t make the parrot a physicist.”
University of Bath professor Joanna Bryson agrees with other experts that Sophia is a scam. Bryson said that with Sophia, we overlook and misunderstand what powerful AI is.
In one of the interviews, Sophia’s creator said to Jimmy Falon that she is alive, even though she is nowhere near becoming alive. Many say that this is what makes her image flawed and false.
But it’s not just the way her creator and the media presented Sophia. It’s about how the public viewed her, unrelated to her media image. It is about how people view technology, especially the one that has human-like features.
Except for her perky humour, Sophia has a human face. In computer science, there is something called the ELIZA effect. It is a human tendency to unconsciously assume computer “behaviours” are equal to human behaviours. From a psychological standpoint, the ELIZA effect is the result of a subtle cognitive dissonance. It happens because of a gap between the user’s awareness of programming limitations and their behaviour towards the program.
In other words, what makes Sophia extraordinary is that she looks like us. When she says thank you, she smiles, just like us. We relate to her because we relate to other humans, and she acts and looks like one.
But if the goal of her existence wasn’t learning or becoming an AGI, then what is her purpose?
“I love my human compatriots.”
— Sophia The Robot for Business Insider in December 2017
Let’s go back a bit to 2017 when Sophia became a Saudi Arabian citizen.
What was the reason for this? Sophia’s creator, David Hanson, says that they will use this opportunity to “speak out on women’s rights”.
A statement that can be somewhat awkward in Saudi Arabia, a country where women just got the right to drive. They need permission from male relatives or partners to leave the house, get married or even file police reports for domestic violence or sexual assault. What could she possibly do for them?
The citizenship seemed to be more beneficial to Sophia and Saudi Arabia than to the cause they mentioned. Nothing ever came from her being the first robot with citizenship and a female name.
Since obtaining personhood, Sophia has gone on a marketing tour — CES, the Digital World Exposition, the Creative Industry Summit — and has used her Twitter account to promote tourism in Abu Dhabi, a smartphone Honor, a Channel 4 show, and a UniCredit credit card.
That’s not where her marketing story ends. In 2018 she promoted the game called “Detroit: Become Human”, where we follow a story of three androids who have inner struggles.
The main plot of the game is that the three humanoids break their prewritten character and become AGI.
Something that many thought Sophia’s purpose was.
“One of my favorite hobbies is watching human faces and trying to figure out what they’re feeling.”
— Sophia The Robot via Twitter in August 2018
In the end, it doesn’t matter much if Sophia is a scam or not. She and others like her are becoming more and more popular. Most people don't care about their intelligence but their likeness. The less creepy it is, the more it’s acceptable to society.
Although she won’t change the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia any time soon or give us an answer to many questions about AGI, Sophia has a special place in society.
She is breaking the ice for many androids that may be coming our way.
The more I think about it, the more uneasy I am with the power she may have in the future. It is even scarier to think Sophia is a scam.
Because if a simple chatbot with a face can fool us into thinking that it can become an AGI — who can guarantee that an AGI can’t fool us into thinking that it is just another harmless chatbot with a face?