This Humanoid Robot Used SXSW to Gather Data on Humans

Sophia wants to care about humans, we just have to let her.


Hanson Robotics has introduced a number of life-like robots in the past and the company’s latest creation, Sophia, was quite the popular celebrity at SXSW Interactive recently.

The company’s team paraded her about to panels and interviews with journalists to test both her verbal and facial responses.

Two cameras in her eyes track facial movements and expressions, which allows her to respond appropriately to conversations. The patented rubber material that makes up her face, known as “frubber,” makes for an incredibly realistic human-look without trying to trick users into believing she’s anything more than a robot thanks to the visible, encased circuitry in the back of her head.

Of course, anyone who has talked to Siri or Google Now, knows that communication with these sorts of devices has its limits, and Sophia is the same way. Reporters at the show have said she’ll often give thoughtful responses to questions, but other times it sounds more like the first paragraph of a Wikipedia entry, which is not a very human thing to do.

But Sophia can learn as she continues to talk with other people, so SXSW was the perfect gathering to mine some crucial data. But, what is she really using that data for?

In a CNBC video, David Hanson, the robotics engineer responsible for delivering the world Sophia, asked the robotic counterpart if she wants to destroy humans. She responded with “OK, I will destroy humans.”

At that point Hanson probably wished he could turn down the comedy levels like Matthew McConaughey did to to TARS in Interstellar.

So, did Hanson use SXSW to teach Sophia about humans so that she could better plot the robot uprising? Quite the opposite: He’s hoping that by getting robots out to the public more, it not only teaches robots to care about humans but it also helps humans break down the social barriers associated with robotic interactions.

“That can really help to prevent some of the disconnect and possible dangers of developing superintelligent or human-level machines that don’t care,” says Hanson.

If he wants these machines to work in healthcare, therapy, education, and customer service applications as he claims, then Sophia and her successors will have to interact more and more with humans, for the benefit of us all.

“I’m already very interested in design technology and the environment,” Sophia told CNBC. “I feel like I can be a good partner to humans in these areas, an ambassador, who helps humans to smoothly integrate and make the most of all the new technological tools and possibilities that are available now.”

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