Humanoid Robot Sophia's UN Speech Shows the Future of AI Is Now

Friday, 13 October 2017 - 9:33AM
Robotics
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Friday, 13 October 2017 - 9:33AM
Humanoid Robot Sophia's UN Speech Shows the Future of AI Is Now
The United Nations loves a good celebrity speaker.

Back in April, Jimmy Fallon interviewed an unbelievable humanoid robot named Sophia, who falls solidly into the Uncanny Valley, but is also unmistakably human in appearance. Clearly, Sophia is moving up in the world, though - she just gave a speech at the UN.

Ostensibly, Sophia was in attendance to talk about sustainability and development, but her presence has sparked a greater discussion about the growing issue of robotics and how the UN should regulate work into artificial intelligence.

This is an issue that comes up more and more every day now, and while Elon Musk shouts loudest with his own pleas to the UN to police AI before it evolves into killing machines, if left unchecked, there are myriad viewpoints on the issue, all of which promote a different idea about how to deal with advancing AI technology.

The primary reason Sophia was there, rather than a more capable human speaker, was because the creepy robot is a powerful visual aid to communicate why this legislation needs to be discussed right now. In addition to delivering prepared remarks, Sophia also showed off her ability to answer complex moral questions about the responsibilities of the UN around the world, as a display of just how capable and responsive AI programs are becoming.



Of course, Sophia was also there for a far more human reason: to further the interests of her creators, Hanson Robotics.

Hanson is making huge breakthroughs in the subtle art of humanoid robotic abominations, and considering that their big business deals with companies like Disney are going to produce a lot of revenue in the coming years, Hanson's bean-counters have a vested interest in influencing global policy on the subject of AI programming regulation.

As we saw during her UN speech, fact and science-fiction are becoming increasingly less distinguishable every day now; we're long past the days when an argument for the UN to take an active role in regulating AI sounded more like an alternate plot to War Games than rational international policy. Sophia has clearly advanced in the last six months alone. She now displays more nuance in her simulation of human body language, as well as her ability to reply to questions.

It's strange, though, that Hanson still hasn't shown the decency to give her an enclosed scalp. Presumably, Sophia's creators feel that it's important to show off the blinking lights in her robot brain, but at a panel discussing the ethics of human-robot relations, it feels a little disrespectful show Sophia off in such an exposed manner.

Maybe this is the true success of Hanson's creation - Sophia looks so uncannily like Alicia Vikander's Ava from Ex Machina that it's hard not to empathize with her. Sure, she's tumbled all the way down to the bottom of Uncanny Valley, but presented with a chance to talk to her, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed clearly can't help but hold her gaze. To do anything else would be disrespectful to a UN speaker, even if she is fundamentally no different than an advanced iPad.

Suddenly, the timing of the release of a Blade Runner sequel feels very apt.

Even the UN is beginning to ask important questions about the rights and privileges of artificial people, and we're all going to soon have to decide whether we think Sophia deserves fair and equal treatment, or whether we all need to lock down AI research to prevent unscrupulous scientists from running immoral tests on our adorable robot children.

Sophia might not have feelings just yet, but you can bet that certain representatives at the UN have just been convinced that she deserves to be treated like she's more than just a toaster with googly eyes.
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Robot Sophia UN Speech Shows Future of AI