Sophia Artificial Intelligence

Jimmy Fallon had… Tony Robbins had . Ross Sorkin had …now finally it was my turn … we all had the chance to talk to Sophia, the (in)famous Artificial Intelligence robot.

Artificial Intelligence Robot Sophia impressed – Dirndl and all … sorry for the 90° turn in between

It was a lot of fun to talk to “her”… But honestly I was a bit worried, having seen several alarmist videos on Youtube about Sophia turning into a T1000 anytime soon.

Let us not forget that Sophia once openly threatened she “wants to destroy humans”.
Quite a statement.

“Destroy Humankind”

In her favour we could argue that she seemed to be trying to be joking then – or it simply was a big PR stunt. Happened in an interview with CNBC, being interviewed by her maker David Hanson jr. himself:

Sophia once said she will destroy humankind

AI going rogue

On the other hand Facebook had to turn off it’s experimental chat AIs, when they developed their own language on their own, incomprehendable to us humans.

So AIs like Sophia raise the uneasy question: Will Artificial Intelligence tolerate us in the mid-future?

At least I was not alone in my wariness of meeting this special AI “person”. Even world leaders found themselves feeling awkward in her presence:

I was afraid!

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad

Sophia ready to take over?

For us humans nothing is as scary as the prospect of us creating our own successors as the predominant species on this planet Earth – if not the whole (then empty) universe.

But even if we are not facing our physical demise by murderous AI robots – what will we do when all burger flipping jobs are taken by McDonald’s friendly AI clerk?

Artificial lifeform Sophia was an accredited visitor to the DIA 2019

Celebrities warn humankind

Experts and public figures like Bill Gates or the – to me – genius Elon Musk warned of the ascend of Artificial Intelligence.

[the power of AI is] so incredible, it will change society in some very deep ways

Bill Gates

With all this on my mind, I was eager and worried when I had my chance to talk to Sophia.

Meeting Sophia – Hanson’s Artificial Intelligence

Finally meeting her “in person”, our little chat turned out to be quite pleasant, and a part of me went to bed that day relieved that clearly there is still a way to go till we reach the level of Enterprise’s artificial lifeform and Picard’s old friend, the android Data.

ELIZA reborn

When talking to her, it reminded me a lot of ELIZA, the famous and first computer program to mimick human conversations.

Built in the mid-1960s by Joseph Weizenbaum at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, ELIZA took what the human typed, kind of rephrased it for an answer and by that created the illusion of a human conversation.

For me it was similar when talking to Sophia. Granted, some sentenced stunned me, impressing me with even philosophical depth, but often these sentences felt out of line of our conversation.

Sophia Artificial Intelligence robot – Sage AI speaking words of wisdom?

Often my impression was more of having a conversation with a sage speaking words of wisdom, inspired by the gods. And the name Sophia is derived from greek, meaning nothing less than “wisdom”.


I would assume Sophia comes equipped with a kind of a library of cue words, “wise” phrases and perhaps sentences, creating the impression of wisdom and intelligence.

Don’t get me wrong, Sophia is very impressive and you can see in the video I kind of talked to her as with a real human being. I subconsciously did my best to not offend her or come off as “chauvinistic”.

Sophia appeals to our social conditioning

That human urge to “behave well” – to be likeable and liked – Sophia is able to create this in her human counterpart. She does this so well that – as the first non-human to receive a citizenship – she became a Saudi-Arabian citizen.

I did feel a persona

Still I was not left with the impression of “intelligence” – but I definetely in between had the impression of a “persona”.

Granted, it was very loud around us. So the speech recognition (btw. made by Alphabet/Google) had a very hard time to capture what I was saying.

Even amongst humans by far unsuitable conditions.

Still, to me it felt more like talking to a highly sophisticated automaton reacting to cue phrases and sometimes – perhaps to take the chance of opening a topic with something clever or keeping the conversation going – surprising with a shamanic/philosophical sentence.

Impressed by appearance

So what I am most impressed by though is not so much her/its “intelligence”. That still feels pretty “artificial”. What I am very much impressed by is the humanlike appearance of her mimics and her “body language”.

To create in us the impression of a human counterpart and to activate our human social programs the presence of “intelligence” itself is not so important.

But appearance, body language and convincing facial expressions are.

And here Hanson Robotics in their strive to create real social robots really made huge progress.

On the one hand, they developed “Frubber“, a very much skin-like rubber, which covers her robotic body. Frubber looks nearly like real skin and gives Sophia the ability to smile or to frown.

On the other hand Sophia – with Frubber – is able to show 62 different human facial expressions, everything from joy to anger to fear.

Sophia Artifial Intelligence brain
Artifial Intelligene Sophia’s brain

According to Hanson Robotics, everything what our human facial muscles can do Sophia can do, too.

Also she was moving her arms, emphasising her words. And, if i remeber correctly, so did her torso – by that mimicking human body language (Sophia only owns a head with torso – below that she is on wheels).

All in all she pushed in my brain the “social” buttons. I was more than hesitant to even ask if I may touch her Frubber-face. I felt too awkward to do so in our Metoo world.

The AI Controversy about Sophia

Hanson Robotics has drawn sharp criticism from AI researchers about giving the public a false impression about what Artificial Intelligence is and can do or cannot do.

This is to AI as prestidigitation is to real magic

Yann LeCun, Facebook

Facts about Sophia

  • Sofia was developed by Hong Kong based Hanson Robotics and activated on February 14, 2016
  • Sophia is a humanoid robot
  • claimed to end humankind
  • became Saudi Arabian citizen in 2017
  • first non-human to be named Innovation Champion by the United Nations
  • designed after Audrey Hepburn
  • voice recognition comes from Alphabet/Google
  • employs artificial intelligence, facial recognition and visual data processiong
  • shows human gesture

Sophia News

image sources

  • sofia-artificial-intelligence-1-800w: HOHB
  • sofia-artificial-intelligence-2: HOHB

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