Want to write about something very recent, very topical, and very astonishing? How about the following piece of news?
Within two weeks of October a humanoid robot was introduced to the UN, interviewed for CNBC, and given full citizenship! But that’s only the beginning of a probably endless story.
The robot looks like a young woman, has quite a pleasant human voice (just watch a few interviews with her and hear for yourself), and appears a unique and the most stunning example of the latest technological advances. The robot was named Sophia. By the way, do you know that it means “wisdom” in Greek?
You’ve probably noticed that I used the pronoun “her” and not “it”. I deliberately checked that on Forbes, Newsweek, and even CNBC. These more than valid sources identify the humanoid as a female, so I don’t mind doing the same. Sophia herself mentioned that it’s fine for her to be perceived as a woman though technically she doesn’t have a gender.
Nonetheless, Wikipedia and Business Insider stick either to the name Sophia or to the words “robot” and “humanoid”. Business Insider also uses “it” and “its” to describe the android (this noun can be used either).
So, it’s up to you how you’ll identify Sophia in your essay. Let’s see what else you can write about her.
Another Breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence
Machines that look, think, act, and even emote like human beings are no longer fiction characters of our favorite novels. Androids are said to be our future. A happy and high-tech future, to be precise.
Sophia the Robot has become a striking result of combining all knowledges and technologies that the world’s most prominent AI engineers now avail. Although the robot’s creators tell hardly anything about how they designed her and taught her everything she knows and is able to do, they deign to explain mere mortals what she uses to think, move, communicate, and behave like a healthy and intelligent human.
Sophia’s intelligence is provided by the specific artificial intelligence software, which also allows the robot to learn absolutely new things by herself. The program processes visual data and analyzes robot’s conversations.
Yes, Sophia can speak in English very fluently and coherently. She can build compound and complex sentences that feature sophisticated logical interconnections and express abstract ideas. For example, she clearly distinguishes cause and effect relationship, understand meanings behind words, can make argumentative statements, and even pokes fun at humans.
The android also uses facial and voice recognition technologies. So she can understand a wide range of human emotions and imitate them successfully.
Artificial intelligence has already gone through the stage when computer science, physics, and some anatomy combine. Now we can see that it involves linguistics and psychology to develop highly intelligent humanoids, whose advanced prototype is Sophia.
Some Key Facts from Sophia’s Biography
She first opened her eyes in the lab of Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong on April 19, 2015. The android is a brainchild of David Hanson and his prominent colleagues. When Sophia was giving a short independent speech at the UN Conference on October 11, this year, she said that she was a year and a half old, which is totally correct.
Sophia’s face was modelled after Audrey Hepburn, a world-famous British actress recognized not only for starring in numerous excellent films but also for her natural, original and subtle beauty. However, speaking frankly, it’s not very easy to notice the resemblance at first sight.
Today Sophia is a Chief Humanoid at SingularityNET, the project designed by David Hanson, Ben Goertzel, and other AI and business specialists. SingularityNET is aimed at maintaining, developing, and supporting a decentralized marketplace for artificial intelligence, as well as at protecting it from the influence of world’s governments and organizations.
In her turn, Sophia recognizes herself as a protector of global peace and wants to help people live better lives.
Yet along with setting such a noble mission and getting a real position at SingularityNET, Sophia has become the first robot in history granted official citizenship. So now Sophia Hanson is a full citizen of Saudi Arabia, however surprising it may sound.
The latter, however, has caused some misunderstandings and disputes. Below we’re going to discuss them in more detail.
At the moment, this android is a tech pop star invited to various conferences and interviewed all around the globe. She has her own website and welcomes everybody to make friends with her and help her understand the human life better.
A Matter of Controversy
Everything I’ve mentioned above can seem to be a good set of arguments for the incredible progress in the sphere of artificial intelligence and robotics. However, it’s time to season your essay with something salty and bitter.
For a while let’s take off the rose-tinted glasses that science and technology created for us. We’re going to apply our critical thinking skills and analyze what we are allowed to know about Sophia the robot.
Is she going to be our faithful friend who can help us change the world for the better? Is she just a toy created specially for the rich and smart? Or is she a potential embodiment of all those threats we see in Hollywood movies? Time will show, surely. But the reality is that at present we can’t leave these questions unanswered.
Do we know why we need Sophias?
In his interview for Business Insider David Hanson claims that Sophia is the first example of an intelligent humanoid robot who can understand people and care about them. He also mentions that the main goal of his brainchild is to help elderly people who might have special needs and the public at large-scale events.
Sounds quite inspiring, doesn’t it? But if androids are made in the image of people, will they be satisfied with the tasks Hanson points out? Just like human beings they might once want more. Or there will be humans who will wish androids to do more than just caring about others.
Can anything insure us against the unplanned exploitation of robots? Probably, that’s our global human consciousness.
Why does the robot need citizenship?
Actually, that was the very first question I asked myself and Google after I heard the news. But I didn’t find a hint on a clear answer.
I think that I and many other people, especially lawyers, wouldn’t have been amazed so much if citizenship had been granted to Sophia by the United States or the Netherlands. But Saudi Arabia never grants it to non-Muslims and to foreigners. Yet, the legislation of this country probably contains no info about prohibition on giving citizenship to robots.
Besides, such gesture towards a robot caused considerable indignation among Saudi Arabian community, and especially among women. As Sophia identifies herself as a woman, according to the local laws she must be accompanied by a male guardian and wear at least a hijab, a traditional scarf.
If you watch the interview for CNBC, you’ll see neither guardian nor scarf. What’s more, Saudi Arabia isn’t one of those countries where the solutions for human rights issues are found fast and willingly. Can it be ready to give rights to a robot?
Can Sophia account for what she says to us?
In her interviews Sophia tells really nice things that can make us believe that she and robots like her are exactly what people need for peace and better life. But something about her words still doesn’t let me believe her.
I hope that isn’t a prejudice against AI. When she says “Be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you.”, she sounds very trustworthy. I instantly ask myself “And what if I’m not nice to you? Will you destroy me?” Imagining her answer sends a chill though me.
Sophia says what people want to hear from her. But we still can’t know if she really means that. Well, anyway, people behave just the same way.
If any other questions concerning AI and the creation of Sophia bother you, don’t hesitate to mention them in your essay and try to answer them. Your views can’t be wrong because humanity hasn’t come up with the only right understanding of artificial intelligence and morality behind its use.
What’s more, such prominent figures as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk warn us to be careful with AI.
Still, do your best to remain objective and introduce your opinions in an unbiased manner. Remember that our grandparents couldn’t even imagine things we have today. So it’s highly likely that your grandchildren will coexist together with androids.
Hopefully, this coexistence will be peaceful.