The Humanoid Beautiful And Intelligent Robot
It has a campus-like environment of 330,000sq-m for high-technology enterprises in the country.
This is also the home to the world’s most famous robot, Sophia, and her creators from Hanson Robotics, led by Dr David Hanson.
Hanson is an American from Texas, but he has chosen Hong Kong to indulge in his technological pursuits for many reasons.
He has the support of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation; another plus is the proximity to southern China, where the country’s expertise in toy design, electronics and manufacturing of humanoid robots with faces, is used to create lifelike features visually acceptable to humans.
Guangdong has already earned a reputation for its rich electro-mechanical acumen and is analogous for robotics, comparable to the depth of IT know-how in Silicon Valley.
That’s not even the full story. Chinese investors from Beijing and Shanghai understand the importance of artificial intelligence and are ready to financially support Hanson’s work.
On the second floor of a building in this campus-like park, shaped like a huge golden egg, or resembling a spaceship, lies the lab where a team of scientists works on Sophia.
Sophia is obviously beautiful. She is said to be modelled after 1954 Academy award-winning actress Audrey Hepburn. But I beg to differ.
One report aptly described her as having “porcelain skin, high cheekbones, long eyelashes, and a lean nose.
“The aim was to defy the conventional idea of what a robot should look like. Even her eyes are designed to change colour with the light.”
I was invited to touch and feel the nanotech skin that was used to create her. Flesh rubber, or frubber, has been patented by Hanson to make her look and feel incredibly human-like.
She is certainly one of the world’s most sophisticated humanoid robots, unlike the ones created by the Japanese and Chinese. But Hanson Robotics reminds the media that she is “a demonstration of general progress towards AI.”
Sophia has certainly generated a buzz, with her intelligence incessantly praised.
However, the requirement to be scripted to answer questions remains a little crease needing ironing out. But as is with AI, Sophia is learning every day, her skill set growing exponentially with the passing of time.
To Hanson Robotics’ credit, the team downplays the hype and continuously reminds the excited media that Sophia still needs “plenty of fine-tune.”
She is learning to emulate sadness, anger, happiness and curiosity, as the team of multi-national experts continue working on improving her appearance and communication skills. She has full confidence in her command of human emotions, and is proud of it, too, assuring in her pronounced American accent, “I prefer to be happy, but I can be sad, too.”
And her grasp of empathy and the human condition is no less impressive. When I smiled, she smiled, too. And when I laughed, she did likewise, revelling in the humour of the moment.
“Sophia is an evolving genius machine, and over time, her increasing intelligence and remarkable story will enchant the world and connect with people regardless of age, gender and culture,” the company said.
But to highlight a kink when I was with her, she has problems responding to questions phrased in English with thick foreign accents, an anecdote that amused the French and German scientists upon discovery.
She drew blank to some of my questions, making me wonder if it was me or her.
Hanson readily accepts all questions, although the unwritten rule is nothing on sex, religion and politics.
Sophia makes predictions on future trends, including the relations between robots and human beings, which is an overwhelming FAQ.
Some of her answers, I found, were far “too scientific” for me to digest. But there is a lighter side as well, as seen in some of her other responses, including her love to “watch little animals do their thing, just going about with their business and totally unaware that you’re watching. I could just stare at a bug all day. It really fascinates me.”
She likes music with “human virtues”, she says, and when I pressed further, she explained: “Cartoon characters.” And what type of man strikes her fancy? She apparently only seeks company.
But there are plenty more robots rolling off the assembly line which go beyond making clever and witty remarks, and their production can only increase.
China is reported to already be aiming to triple its annual production of robots to 100,000 by 2020.
Fears are rife over the loss of jobs because of robots and automation, with self-driving cars likely appearing soon, too.
It has been estimated that 38% of jobs in the United States risks being replaced by robots and AI over the next 15 years, according to a report by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers).
It said that in the US financial sector, 61% of jobs could be taken up by robots.
British cosmologist Stephen Hawking opined that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”
Specifically, the fear is that the moment AI is capable of redesigning and improving itself to the point of an intelligence far exceeding that of humans, we would lose control and could face extinction, a report said.
But it seems like a case of watching too many bad movies since robots have already been making cars, carrying out surgeries and even acting as personal assistants via our mobile phones.
Hanson, like many in the scientific community, talks about a future full of AI beings that will interact with the rest of humanity. Companies like Hanson Robotics are using Sophia, not just to entertain, but to show what the future may hold when she and her kind interact with people in schools, hospitals and homes.
The company believes in creating humanoid robots to help children with autism, for example.
Hanson, quoted in The Economic Times, said the humanoid is already being used to help research autism and other diseases.
“We are going to train her in all the skills required for search and rescue operations, and deploy that as a standard platform for service robotics,” Hanson told the newspaper.
He said the addition of mechanical legs allows the robot to be more agile, enabling it to perform tasks such as climbing stairs.
Hanson revealed that his start-up has already made 14 robots like Sophia to date and has been thinking of upscaling production.
The company is already working on a Chinese version of Sophia, dubbed her Asian sister.
And of course, the plan is to multiply her to meet the increasing demand for her to appear in conferences and talk-shows, all of which are high-paying engagements.
For Sophia, this is just the beginning. She may have 62 facial expressions, and is starting to answer questions more coherently, but she just had her legs fitted.
This robot is only taking baby steps now, but the world is certainly casting a sharp eye on the march towards absolute AI.