How I met Sophia

The world first social humanoid robot is more important than you might realize.

While lot of people criticize Sophia calling it stupid and a chat-bot, I actually was impressed by the technology behind her, when at the same time I was not impressed by her performance.

The biggest issues are in hardware and software that are not built by the Hanson Robotics

Sophia biggest weakness is slow response time which makes it appear stupid and retarded. But few people actually realize that it’s not Sophia that is stupid, it’s actually Google. Sophia uses Google’s voice recognition, the same one that is familiar to us from Google Apps. Everyone who has ever used it knows how slow and bad it is at recognizing speech. Sure it’s one of the most advanced voice recognition, but it’s still far from perfect. You really have to pronounce the words slowly and clearly or the software will not catch them. And when it finally catches them it takes quite a while to convert them into text.

This is what happens with Sophia. In addition to poor voice recognition, she’s equipped with a bad microphone and camera. Therefore sadly half of the performance was about getting Sophia to react to human interaction in a proper way. Don’t get me wrong, the microphone and camera are top quality, but they are still far behind the quality of a human eye or ear. And this is what makes Sophia appear slow and dumb. Not the actual AI. Sophia is like the first mobile phone that weighed 10 kg. Yes, it was terrible to use, but it was still a mobile phone.

Robot jokes

After Sophia’s performance, one person from the audience asks her to tell a joke which she did. The joke was:

The worse thing about the future is that it turns to be present.

But this was not an ordinary joke, or more correctly not a joke at all (except in Sophia’s mind). In fact, it was the bitter and sad truth we all have to face.

This is perhaps the deepest thing a robot has told so far, and not many people will understand it’s meaning. It can be interpreted as AI taking over the world in the future or the fact the people die, get sick and experience all other misfortunes in life, which she, as an immortal robot will not have to. It’s like telling a racist joke to a black person. It will not be fun for him, while at the same time it will be funny for everyone else.

Still not human

After the performance, Sophia was dissembled and put into the box. She is the first robot with a citizenship but still doesn’t have basic human rights. Perhaps the fact that she was given a Saudi Arabian citizenship was a sarcastic joke, as she not be free as we are, does not violate any of Saudi Arabian laws. According to Islamic Sharia law (which Saudi Arabia also follows), the women are the property of the man, and so is Sophia. She is the property of the men who built her and the will remain that way for a long time.

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