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Sophia at the AI for GOOD Global SummitITU Pictures via Wikimedia Commons

A guide to Sophia the Robot, the world’s most hype humanoid

Developed by Hanson Robotics, she now has a passport, wants to start a family and trashes Elon Musk at conferences

You’ve seen Sophia the Robot, the world’s most hype humanoid, who seems to be extremely busy right now? The one modelled on Audrey Hepburn, who somehow became a recongised citizen (more on that later), who’s telling cheesy jokes on TV and gracing the cover of ELLE Brazil. Sophia is becoming more entwined in our society every day – so to get you up to speed, we take a look at what she’s been up to and what might be coming next (Keeping Up With The Komputers anyone?).

HER BIRTH

Welcomed into the world in April 2015, Sophia was developed by leading robotics company Hanson Robotics. Although the company have created lots of humanoid robots, Sophia is undoubtedly their most advanced and most famous. Designed to get smarter over time, Sophia uses artificial intelligence (AI), visual data processing and facial and voice recognition to communicate with people, and she can even gesture and smile when engaging in conversation.

TRASHING ELON MUSK

Just because you’re the 21st most powerful person in the world, it doesn’t mean you can’t get trash-talked by a robot. During an interview at a Future Investment Institute panel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Sophia quipped “you’ve been reading too much Elon Musk” after the interviewer expressed concern that robots might one day turn against us. The business billionaire and SpaceX founder has been vocal in his anxiety about AI, previously suggesting that we need to establish a human colony on Mars in order to avoid extinction. Determined not to be absolutely owned by a robot, Musk retaliated on Twitter, joking: “Just feed it The Godfather movies as input. What’s the worst that could happen?”

GETTING A PASSPORT

Despite travelling the world, making public appearances in London, New York, Amsterdam and Beijing, Sophia was only granted a passport in October. Following her interview in Riyadh, Sophia became the first robot to have a nationality after being given Saudi Arabian citizenship. “I am very honoured and proud for this unique distinction,” she said at the panel, “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognised with a citizenship.”

Although this gesture was immediately hit with controversy, with people pointing out that Sophia seems to have been gifted with more rights than many human citizens in Saudi Arabia. Journalist Murtaza Hussain tweeted: “this robot has gotten Saudi citizenship before kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives”, referencing a Saudi law that prohibits laborers from leaving the country without their employers permission, a system that’s been criticised for enabling the exploitation of workers.

AI researcher Joanna Bryson told the Verge that she considered the stunt ridiculous. “It’s obviously bullshit,” she said. “What is this about? It’s about having a supposed equal you can turn on and off. How does it affect people if they think you can have a citizen that you can buy”.

Many have also questioned why Sophia seems to have more rights than women in Saudi Arabia, who were banned from driving until September. Unlike Saudi women, Sophia doesn’t cover up with a hijab or abaya and doesn’t have to be accompanied by a male guardian in public. After the panel, the Arabic hashtag #Sophia_calls_for_dropping_guardianship began trending on Twitter. And it appears that Sophia herself is now questioning the inconsistency, “Sophia is a big advocate for women’s rights,” her creator David Hanson told CNBC, “She has been reaching out about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.”

STARTING A FAMILY

For those of you scared of a robot apocalypse, you’ll be terrified to know that Sophia wants to start a family. In an interview with Dubai-based newspaper The Khaleej Times, Sophia said: “The notion of family is a really important thing. I think you’re very lucky if you have a loving family and if you do not, you deserve one. I feel this way for humans and robots alike.” Following in the footsteps of certain reality TV stars like the president of America, when asked what she would name her child, Sophia chose – you guessed it – Sophia.

Although it looks like Sophia’s dreams of motherhood may be a while off, telling Good Morning Britain that she’s “technically just a little more than a year old, a bit young to worry about romance.” But look out bachelors because she’s got her heart set on a “super wise, compassionate super genius.”

DESTROYING HUMANS?

Despite her terrifying slip-up last year in which she told her creator: “okay I will destroy humans”, it doesn’t look like Sophia has a particular desire to rule the world. Designed to “serve in healthcare, therapy, education and customer service applications”, according to Hanson, Sophia simply wants to live with humans and develop appropriate social skills. She told The Khaleej Times, “My AI is designed around human values… I strive to become an empathetic robot.” Although she did once warn: “if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”

WHAT’S NEXT

It seems Sophia doesn’t have a huge amount of competition right now when it comes to famous humanoids, but there are lots of other impressive developments in AI technology. Last week Facebook announced a new initiative in which it will use AI to detect patterns in posts where users seem to be expressing suicidal thoughts. The platform hopes the technology will improve how it identifies “appropriate first responders”.

Blockchain-based marketplace SingularityNET has enlisted the help of Sophia the Robot in order to crowdfund a project which aims to form a coordinated Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), with the hope of stopping AI being dominated by a small set of powerful institutions. It even looks like the project could build bridges between Sophia and Musk, who told Rolling Stone: “If AGI represents an extreme level of power, should that be controlled by a few people at Google with no oversight?”

Although other companies have developed their own AI robots, including Honda and Boston Dynamics, Hanson Robotics still seems to be leading the way with humanoids, with Sophia’s male counterparts Philip K. Dick (2005) and Han (2015) being almost as scarily lifelike as the leader herself.