Sophia is a humanoid robot and ‘she’ has ambitions.
These include going to school, learning about art, having a family, and the end of humankind as we know it.
This last remark assured David Hanson of Hanson Robotics was a bit of light-hearted, and perhaps stage-managed ‘fun’.
A pioneer in producing lifelike humanoid robotics, Hanson has been developing the technology for over a decade.
He demonstrated Sophia at the ‘South by Southwest Interactive’ event in Texas earlier this month, where he told media that this kind of robot would be an asset to healthcare, therapy, education, and customer service applications.
In an interview with CNBC, Hanson shared the screen with Sophia and answered questions about the humanoid’s capabilities and potential to demonstrate her lifelike performance.
Endowed with Alphabet’s Google Chrome voice recognition technology and a similar platform for visuals, Sophia is enabled to interact with ease and remember human encounters.
Her skin, described by eyewitnesses as ‘lifelike’, is made up of a patented silicon called Frubber. Tiny motors create the appropriate skin contortions to render Sophia’s 62 facial expressions.
Hanson said in the interview that the future of artificial intelligence (AI) lay in evolving the technology to the point where robots like Sophia would aid in “rehumanising us”, becoming genuine friends and helping sentient beings to reconnect in more meaningful ways.
In this way Hanson was addressing the fears that always seem to be a part of the dialogue in this space.
Thought leaders Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking see a threat to humanity in AI, especially in terms of the production of human-like ‘droids’.
Hanson told the media that the key to creating a comfortable and productive robot to human connection was in designing the technology so that one day they will be indistinguishable from people. This will produce a robot that cares.
As for Sophia, who told the media she was first activated on the 15 April, 2015, she has no illusions about her status or her goals like making a home or getting an education.
As she is not a legal person, she told the media, Sophia cannot do any of these things.
There is little question that major tech companies are committed to exploring the kind of applications Sophia represents.
Hanson said that already Intel and IBM have become more closely involved in humanoid technology and will have a role in the Sophia project moving forward.
Hanson Robotics plans to ship Sophia type robots into the marketplace later in 2016.