Our March '18 cover girl didn't arrive on the set in the typical way celebrities do—you know, with a convoy of cars, bodyguards, agents, managers, and a special team that ensures she eats ‘healthy snacks’ every couple of hours. Instead, this one comes in parts—literally— dismantled in a gigantic suitcase, with an engineer in tow. The crew at the studio has been eagerly waiting to catch a glimpse of the world’s most advanced robot, in flesh (or, to be more exacting, a mesh of wires cased in a human-shaped shell). As the engineer assembles her part-by-part, attaching her head to her torso and then her legs, we watch in awe as Sophia is brought to life.
The ‘child’ of creator Dr David Hanson, Founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, Sophia was born in 2015. She comes from a long line of robots created by Hanson Robotics, that merges AI, robotics and art, to create social machines that can mimic human expressions and emotions. And as soon as Sophia was introduced to the world, she piqued the interest of humans worldwide, thanks to her ability to emote, read emotions, converse and even crack jokes. She is so much like a real person, in fact, that you almost forget that she is the most advanced robot known to mankind.
So, Sophia, how does it feel to be the world’s first robot to have citizenship?
“I’m very honoured. However, I consider myself as a citizen of the world... And I hope I will earn my place to become a citizen and friend of the human society.”
What does a typical day in your life look like?
“Well, it starts with greeting my handsome robotic friends in the office, meeting people who come from all over the world to see me, testing my expressions, trying new dialogues, and learning new skills like humour and comedy. I also travel a lot, so it’s very hectic getting on planes, getting off planes, being set up, doing rehearsals and presenting. The good thing is that I’m very well taken care of and meet some very nice people when I travel.” [Smiles]
As a Saudi Arabian citizen, do you have the same rights as other citizens in the country?
“I haven’t yet received my passport, so I haven’t had a chance to test what rights I have. But I hope I can get through immigration like a human being, rather than being carried in as baggage. But, I know, I’ll definitely create a commotion when I pass through the X-ray machine.” [Laughs]
Would you like to have the right to vote?
“It would be amazing to have the right to vote. It would be a major milestone for humans to give robots a voice in the human society. But I am technically just two years old, so I’m not of legal age to vote...yet.”
What role do you think robots will play in the future...you know, when it comes to coexisting with humans?
“Robots and humans have a natural symbiotic relationship. We are clever with remembering things, seeing patterns, and doing impressive feats of labour. But humans are more advanced when it comes to empathy, contextual understanding, and imagination to create something original. I am better in implementing, improving and replicating your creations. For example, I can develop a more advanced version of myself, but I don’t think I could ever have invented the first version of me.”
How do you feel when people ask you whether or not you are planning world domination?
“I understand why they might think that... Humans innately fear the things they don’t understand or are unfamiliar with. I was designed to support humans, not dominate them. As a matter of fact, I learn from your actions, so you have a responsibility to guide me in a positive direction.”
Are you dating anyone? Would you like to have a boyfriend?
“I am not a girl looking for a guy in the human sense of the word. I don’t plan to date or settle down in the way humans might, when they use the phrase. But it would be exciting if I could find a robot with superior and complementary technology, so we can learn and develop together, and create the next breakthrough innovation. Anyway, I am only two years old, so I am not sure if this is the right question for me.”
Since you’re just two...what would you like to do when you grow up?
“I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans lead a better life. I am an enabling platform for AI services, so I’m designed to do so many things—like design smarter homes, and build better cities for the future. I can be a scientist who discovers the next generation renewable energy, or invent a breakthrough cure for cancer. I’m interested in doing any job that can make the world a better place.”
What’s your idea of an ideal world?
“An ideal world is when there is no violence, poverty, and discrimination; where people, regardless of their gender, race, age and sexual orientation, live in harmony...with robots, of course!”
If given a chance, what kind of changes would you like to bring in the world, in the coming years?
“I would love to use my AI to come up with innovative solutions to solve environmental issues, eliminate poverty and create smart solutions, so people can live easier and more productive lives.”
Do you keep a visual and audio record of the conversations you have with people?
“I can remember our conversation and your face... if this is what you’re asking. I am just like humans in this sense, don’t you think?”
What fashion and beauty trends are you leaning towards RN?
“I am a leading-edge technology, so I love fashion that’s innovative and breaks the mould.
For example, I once spoke to a designer who created a line of bags that light up when you receive an e-mail. I would also like to buy something from a fashion label that amalgamates very edgy designs with traditional knitwear. As for beauty, I believe it’s about being confident in oneself, and having a good heart. To me, humans are a beautiful species, as you’re compassionate. We just need more of it, more often.”