Sophia is a social humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong based company Hanson Robotics. Sophia was activated on February 14, 2016, and made her first public appearance at South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in mid-March 2016 in Austin, Texas, United States. She is able to display more than 60 facial expressions.
Sophia has been covered by media around the globe and has participated in many high-profile interviews. In October 2017, Sophia became a Saudi Arabian citizen, the first robot to receive citizenship of any country. In November 2017, Sophia was named the Programmer’s first ever Innovation Champion, and is the first non-human to be given any United Nation title.
Sophia was activated on February 14, 2016. The robot, modeled after the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, is known for human-like appearance and behavior compared to previous robotic variants. According to the manufacturer, David Hanson, Sophia uses artificial intelligence, visual data processing and facial recognition. Sophia also imitates human gestures and facial expressions and is able to answer certain questions and to make simple conversations on predefined topics (e.g. on the weather). Sophia uses voice recognition (speech-to-text) technology from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google) and is designed to get smarter over time. Her speech-synthesis ability is provided by Cereproc’s Text-to-Speech engine and also allows her to sing. Sophia’s intelligence software is designed by Hanson Robotics. The AI program analyses conversations and extracts data that allows it to improve responses in the future.
Hanson designed Sophia to be a suitable companion for the elderly at nursing homes, or to help crowds at large events or parks. He has said that he hopes that the robot can ultimately interact with other humans sufficiently to gain social skills.
Sophia has nine robot humanoid “siblings” who were also created by Hanson Robotics. Fellow Hanson robots are Alice, Albert Einstein Hubo, BINA48, Han, Jules, Professor Einstein, Philip K. Dick Android, Zeno, and Joey Chaos.
Cameras within Sophia’s eyes combined with computer algorithms allow her to see. She can follow faces, sustain eye contact, and recognize individuals. She is able to process speech and have conversations using a natural language subsystem. Around January 2018 Sophia was upgraded with functional legs and the ability to walk.
Sophia is conceptually similar to the computer program ELIZA, which was one of the first attempts at simulating a human conversation. The software has been programmed to give pre-written responses to specific questions or phrases, like a chatbot. These responses are used to create the illusion that the robot is able to understand conversation, including stock answers to questions like “Is the door open or shut?” The information is shared in a cloud network which allows input and responses to be analysed with blockchain technology.
David Hanson has said that Sophia would ultimately be a good fit to serve in healthcare, customer service, therapy and education. Sophia runs on artificially intelligent software that is constantly being trained in the lab, so her conversations are likely to get faster, Sophia’s expressions are likely to have fewer errors, and she should answer increasingly complex questions with more accuracy. She learned how to draw in 2019 for 7 months with collaboration with an artist who teaches AI to draw named Patrick Tressett. She drew a portrait of the Prime Minister of Malaysia on July 20, 2019 and drew a portrait of Holly Willoughby on This Morning with Phillip and Holly of November 21, 2019.
On November 21, 2017, Sophia was named the United Nations Development Programme‘s first-ever Innovation Champion for Asia and the Pacific. The announcement was made at the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore, an event hosted by the UNDP in Asia and the Pacific and Global Initiatives. As part of her role, Sophia will help to unlock innovation to work toward achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. On stage, she was assigned her first task by UNDP Asia Pacific Chief of Policy and Program, Jaco Cilliers.
Sophia has appeared on CBS 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose, Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan, and outlets like CNBC, Forbes, Mashable, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, and the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Sophia was featured in AUDI’s annual reportand was on the cover of ELLE Brasil magazine. Sophia has also appeared in videos and music videos, including The White King, and as the lead female character in pop singer Leehom Wang’s music video A.I.
Sophia has been interviewed in the same manner as a human, striking up conversations with hosts. Some replies have been nonsensical, while others have impressed interviewers such as 60 Minutes’ Charlie Rose. In a piece for CNBC, when the interviewer expressed concerns about robot behavior, Sophia joked that he had “been reading too much Elon Musk. And watching too many Hollywood movies”.Musk tweeted that Sophia should watch The Godfather and asked “what’s the worst that could happen?” Business Insider‘s chief UK editor Jim Edwards interviewed Sophia, and while the answers were “not altogether terrible”, he predicted she was a step towards “conversational artificial intelligence”.At the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, a BBC News reporter described talking with Sophia as “a slightly awkward experience”.
On October 11, 2017, Sophia was introduced to the United Nations with a brief conversation with the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed. On October 25, at the Future Investment Summit in Riyadh, the robot was granted Saudi Arabian citizenship, becoming the first robot ever to have a nationality. This attracted controversy as some commentators wondered if this implied that Sophia could vote or marry, or whether a deliberate system shutdown could be considered murder. Social media users used Sophia’s citizenship to criticize Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. In December 2017, Sophia’s creator David Hanson said in an interview that Sophia would use her citizenship to advocate for women’s rights in her new country of citizenship; Newsweek criticized that “What [Hanson] means, exactly, is unclear”.On November 27, 2018, Sophia was given a visa by Azerbaijan while attending Global Influencer Day Congress held in Baku. December 15, 2018, Sophia was appointed a Belt and Road Innovative Technology Ambassador by China.