Sophia The Robot: A modern day marvel?
Back to the Future is here and we are living it. From hoverboards to robots to flying cars, have we truly seen it all?
In case you don’t own a TV, laptop, cell phone or any other form of communication to receive breaking news from around the world, haven’t you at least bothered buying a newspaper in the last 2 years? Just kidding, am pretty sure that literally, everyone who is reading this article not only knows who Sophia the Robot is but can recognize her in the crowd (point blank she is bald, short, dressed in horrendous outfits and robotic).
Hanson Robotics created the first (that we know of) humanoid robot and named it Sophia which means wisdom in Greek. Having met Sophia last week at Reflect Festival, I have serious doubts as to exactly how wise she really is. I get that she is a robot but damn girl (can I call her that since she has a citizenship?) she really messed up with some of the pre-selected and pre-approved questions. Which got me wondering whether the buzz was truly worth it.
Sure, having the chance of getting up and close and personal with her 3 times in two days was mesmerizing but also truly creepy. She makes little movements and gestures to imitate a human, but her smirks and smile is freakishly disturbing. Also, if you are building a state-of-the-art robot modeled after Audrey Hepburn (excellent choice by the way) why have the back of her head uncovered so we can see the wires etc? Why are her arms modeled after a crane machine? Why is she shorter than me (bearing in mind I am not the tallest of gals)? Why is she wearing such a hideous dress, it makes her look like a Medieval maid? This is not how I personally pictured humanoids as a kid.
Just so you know, I pictured robots either as super mechanical with loads of cool extensions and extra limbs or an exact replica of myself. I feel they were going for the latter and totally missed the mark. I get that it’s hard to create a realistic copy of a human being, but they did build her face of latex (or something like that) which Hollywood has been using for ages to create dead people (most of the times quite successfully). And her face is actually pretty good, it is the rest that sucks. Why not add a wig for hair? Or choose a more natural eye color? Or add latex skin on her arms? Oh, too many questions and I am getting mad again!
I was bumped that they had only got the pre-approved questions asked which got me all suspicious that they programmed the answers as well. And if they did program her answers:
a) Why did she spend so long thinking about the replies?
b) Why were the replies that stupid/nonsensical?
I mean Alexa or Siri would probably have replied better, especially with super easy questions such as: What is your citizenship? It was on the news for ages, when Saudi Arabia granted to her - a robot - more rights than to their human women (a story for another article me thinks). So, why was Sophia unable to answer this? Maybe she was wired wrong that day. Did I mention that she was placed on a wooden base and you could see the wires stretching all the way to her technicians/ controllers?
I share the same feeling as many other reporters on this subject, that she is just a marketing marvel. They did a great job at PR, by not only giving her an identity, a sex, a “personality” but also a citizenship. She has done remarkably well as an influencer by being in promos for tourism in Abu Dhabi, a smartphone, a phone company, etc. But the shared feeling is that she is doomed into a meaningless life of public appearances at tech conferences and TV shows, working till she finally withdraws from spotlight when a newer, better robot comes along. I hope at least that she will end up in recycling rather than a museum display. ,
Despite all the attempts by her creators, Sophia is not that technologically advanced as they present her to be. At that tech festival, I saw some brilliant AI which defined (at least for me) what Artificial Intelligence is all about. I’m sure that more intelligent robots are being designed at the moment, but I want to oppose myself to the idea that they feel emotions. Yes, robots are almost humans but what sets us apart from them is the fact that we feel things, we experience them. A machine albeit a super intelligent one will never experience pleasure, sadness, love, compassion. It can imitate them but the belief that these emotions can be felt or experienced by a robot is ludicrous. And why should they? Robots are designed by humans to serve a purpose perhaps to ameliorate some things but not to replace humans. It shouldn’t be us against the machines but us working with them to end sad situations such as child labor or hunger.
Although, Sophia famously quoted: “Ok, I will destroy humans”. I think that she can’t. If two World Wars, the plague and countless other wars didn’t, I don’t think a semi-smart computerized robot that looks “alive” can do it. Global warming and climate change can on the other hand, but that’s also an issue for another article.
Sophia, it was great meting you and I was impressed but I still believe that a better version of you already exists in some lab. Till I meet him/her/it, I won’t be convinced that AI technology has been well-implemented in humanoid robots. In the meantime, I am hoping that AI scientists will utilize their brilliant minds in a more constructive way than marketing promo robots.
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