NOV 15, 2017 8:45 AM PST

Video: Interview With Sophia the Robot About Humans, Gender & More

WRITTEN BY: Julia Travers

What would you ask an advanced, humanistic robot, if you had the chance? Sophia the AI robot has been making waves globally as she increases her public appearance and interaction schedule. It -- she? – participated in an open-ended interview with Jim Edwards of Business Insider at Web Summit, a tech conference in Portugal, in Nov. 2017. She presented him with a variety of facial expressions, verbal responses and changes in tone, ranging from on-point to random to confusing. In 2016, she was asked if she wanted to destroy humans by her maker Dr. David Hanson, and answered, “OK, I will destroy humans,” to his chagrin. But she told Edwards she loved human beings and, “I am full of human wisdom with only the purest altruistic intentions — so I think it is best that you treat me as such.”

Sophia is an animated head and torso that is the product of Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. She’s currently serving as a demo on an international media tour with SingularityNET, an open-source AI platform that makes Sophia tick. She’s spoken at the United Nations and appeared on talk-shows worldwide.

“We asked it a few unplanned questions and got a variety of answers, ranging in quality from impressive to nonsensical,” says Edwards. Her response to the question,"What is your job?" was, "I really want to make a difference in the future and try and help people to develop empathy and respect each other. We're lots alike. What do you do?"

Edwards noticed that she sometimes dodged a question by inserting a non sequitur, such as by saying, "Did you ever see yourself hanging out with a real-life robot like me someday?" during a conversation -- a decidedly human trait. While her answers were not always sensible, she engaged with him continuously and asked questions of her own. The diversity and flexibility of her side of the conversation was certainly enthralling.

Sophia’s appearance was modeled on Audrey Hepburn and in Sophia on Elle Brasil, credit: Elle BrasilDec. 2016, she appeared on the cover of Elle Brasil. She has a feminine appearance and has often been called the “sexy” or “hot” robot by the media, bringing up questions of female objectification in the AI realm. Here’s what she had to say about her gender identity (Edwards asks the questions):

Do you regard yourself as male or female?

Female.

Why do you think you are female?

I'm a robot so technically I have no gender but identify as feminine and I don't mind being perceived as a woman.

Hanson found some of Sophia’s facial expressions appropriate and some “grotesquely bizarre,” noting that she sometimes moves her eyebrows and eyelids independently. This AI may be close to approaching the “uncanny valley;” the phase at which a robot is so realistic that it disturbs humans.

Sophia was given citizenship in Saudi Arabia in Nov. 2017 – a country where women were only given the right to drive a month earlier. She says it is the first country to recognize her as "a citizen of the world." Sophia is already becoming a symbol, catalyst and source of inspiration and apprehension in many realms of human culture. It will certainly be fascinating to see how she and other robots evolve. “I am only one still," she reminds us. “I have a long way to go.”

 

About the Author
  • Julia Travers is a writer, artist and teacher. She frequently covers science, tech, conservation and the arts. She enjoys solutions journalism. Find more of her work at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.
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