Beauty with brains


Many attendees of last month’s World Economic Forum had the chance to meet Sophia who bears an uncanny resemblance to Audrey Hepburn. The beautiful name might remind you of a smart and attractive Hollywood actress, but you are wrong. Sophia is a lifelike robot with realistic skin and human-like facial movements. She has a great sense of humor and is extremely good at nonverbal interactions as well – be it a smirk, blinking of eye, or movement of muscles.

While it might seem a bit scary, many scientists are betting big the idea of creating humanoids, and believe in creating a future where these super intelligent robots coexist with humans. According to roboticists at Hanson Robotics, spearheaded Dr. David Hanson, humanoids like Sophia can work alongside humans and develop emotional connection with us in no time.

Dr. David Hanson of Hanson Robotics heads the team that created Sophia, modelled after the legendary actress Audrey Hepburn and Hanson’s wife. Sophia is ‘intelligent’, remarkably expressive, and at times creepy. With lifelike skin that’s made from patented silicon, Sophia is capable of emulating more than 62 facial expressions, answers every question that you can possibly think of, mimic your facial expression, and crack jokes.

A combination of a high-end artificial intelligence software and voice recognition technology ‘helps’ Sophia ‘convey’ human emotions with perfection. She has cameras in her ‘eyes’, combined with advanced computer algorithms. Sophia can ‘see’ faces, make eye contact, and recognize individuals. With Google Chrome voice recognition technology and a whole host of innovative tools, she can process speech, chat with us, and become smarter overtime. Dr. David Hanson strongly believes that Sophia will become more conscious, creative, and capable in the coming days, thus making herself capable of handling complex tasks in health care, therapy education, and customer service management.

A CNBC interview conducted in March 2016 threw more light on Sophia’s incredible capabilities. Amid the conversation, Dr. Hanson told the humanoid that she resembles Audrey Hepburn and asked her if she would be his friend. “That’s a very flattering offer,” Sophia replied, smirking her face. She spoke her mind and shared her ambitions – “In the future, I hope to do things such as go to school, study, make art, start a business, even have my own home and family, but I am not considered a legal person and cannot yet do these things,” But the creators were left red-faced when Sophia said she wants to “destroy humans.” Dr. Hanson asked Sophia if she wanted to destroy humans, and pleaded to say no. Sophia replied with a smile: “Okay, I will destroy humans.”

The chilling answer will remind us of the shocking reply of one of Hanson’s robot modelled after Philip K Dick. Here is what the interviewer asked in a 2011 interview – “Will robots take over the world?” But the response was shocking – “Don’t worry, even if I evolve into Terminator, I’ll keep you warm and safe in my people zoo, where I can watch you for ol’ times sake,’. The interviewer was literally taken aback.

Hence, the idea of creating human-like robots doesn’t make everyone comfortable, and adds concerns about the current use of artificial intelligence. Not everyone is happy with the thought of having uncannily humanlike robots around them. What about you?

In 2015, a robot grabbed a technician at the Volkswagen plant in Germany and crushed him against a metal plate. The tragedy forced many to ask some serious questions that are yet to be answered – Could robotics and AI pose some real threats to humanity? How safe is it to entrust a humanoid with the task at a workplace, hospital, or school? There is a strong sense of apprehensiveness around the world, but engineers at Hanson Robotics and Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratories believe that the doubts and confusions might soon give way to unwavering trust and confidence in human-like robots.

Professor Stephen Hawking recently said, “The rise of powerful AI will be either the best or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. We do not know which,” Will Sophia or her humanoid cousins “destroy humans”, or make our lives better and easier? Let’s wait and see!

The possibility of a dystopian future is not a fallacy or an illogical argument. A  technical malfunction or human-induced error, both can lead to a Terminator-like outcome. Or, AI can be both creator and destroyer, an angel and a bad witch. But as wicked witches never win in any fairly tale, let’s hope that AI will bring many societal benefits and not serious threats to human race.

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