Sophia the robot: the AI entertainer
One of the most hotly anticipated speakers in Lisbon was Sophia the robot. People no longer need to fear that AI robots like her will steal their jobs in the near future. Here’s why.
The Altice arena was full on Tuesday 7th November in Lisbon. Sophia the robot had made headlines a few days before when she was granted Saudi Arabian nationality. But although large crowds approached the stage to take pictures and videos of the robot, the event was nothing more than mere entertainment, hosted by Ben Goertzel, a programmer from Hanson Robotics who appeared with a hat and an attitude worthy of Crocodile Dundee. He stole the show, making jokes and moderating a rather primitive conversation between him, Sophia and another robot produced by his company: Einstein. Sophia even pitched the next project from Hanson Robotics, the .io, just as well as your old answering machine might have done. Ben explained during the press conference that the company uses different software and that the one used onstage runs with a simple decision tree approach. Sophia didn’t really understand most of what she was talking about.
« At times, Sophia still acts like your old answering machine »
There’s a lot of confusion about AI today. People confuse algorithms and AI, the latter being able to write its own code. When it comes to real AI robots, programmers face Moravec’s paradox which states that it’s easy to program a chess champion but extremely difficult to mimic simple things like a child’s movements. Ben Goertzel considers his project to be a platform for various types of AI, from language identification to human facial expression recognition and so on. He works with universities and companies around the world but when asked about the progress made over the last twelve months, his first answer made reference to using Sophia to teach relaxation, thanks to her ability to mimic eye and head movements.
Sophia is the incarnation of many employees’ nightmares: once trained properly, she could invade homes and companies to perform human jobs for a fraction of the price and without the traditional headaches for employers: holidays, sick leave and ever-changing moods. AI robots will improve in the long term but when it comes to non-mathematical tasks like answering questions from multiple people, this will take time - if you doubt that, just buy an Alexa Echo device or talk to Siri.