The most photographed woman at South By Southwest was surprisingly not even human. Here’s a short clip from the #SXSW Interview with Oscar Raymundo –
Sophia, a female humanoid robot was developed by Hanson Robotics six months ago. This alpha-prototype came to SXSW (The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Conferences and Festivals showcase the future of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies since 1987) for the first time last week and became an instant sensation. But unlike human celebrities, Sophia seemed uncomfortable with all the attention.
“Rather than be a spectacle, I would rather learn and participate,” Sophia told the audience during her panel.
She looked eerily similar to the robot protagonist in Ex Machina but without the legs. When she was unveiled you could see the computers in her head through a transparent dome. In these early stages, Sophia was designed to stand out.
Oscar Raymundo from Macworld got a chance to sit down with this humanoid robot for 20 minutes at SXSW. But before he could engage in conversation, the Hanson Robotics team had to connect her to the local Wi-Fi and to a laptop for her audio output. Once she was all hooked up, her comprehension skills were elementary at best.
When she was stumped and could not deliver an appropriate response to one of the questions, she was not ashamed to say, “I don’t know” or rephrase the question. Most humans would consider this rude, and it made it difficult to have a back-and-forth conversation. Even though Sophia did get philosophical and talked about believing in God, some of her responses were culled from searching the Internet—hence the need for Wi-Fi.
The most human aspect of Sophia is her face. Hanson Robotics has patented a special skin-like rubber, or “frubber,” so that Sophia can have more than 60 types of facial expressions. According to Dr. David Hanson, robots need to have a “beautiful and expressive” face so that they can communicate more intuitively with humans.
Dr. Hanson, who previously worked with Disney and has created other humanoid robots, believes that a human-like face is a “critical” part of the future of robotics.
During his SXSW panel, Dr. Hanson said that he hopes Sophia as a software and hardware platform will be a “nexus” for developing other robots with facial expressions and social presence. In the future, these robots could be employed as Ebola nurses or even tap into their super-intelligence to become Chief Robotics Officers at a big corporation.
Dr. Hanson states that:
“robots will be more human than human,” “more intelligent, more ethical. Better at certain tasks because robots don’t lose their patience.”
He later proceeded on to explain the ethical implications concerning robots and enslavement disclaiming that these robots could be employed for sex therapy, but that is not something his company is going to pursue.
“We’re just sidestepping all these issues for now – We’re not going to make sexbots,” he said.