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I met Sophia, the world's first robot citizen, and the way she said goodbye nearly broke my heart


Becky and Sophia Selfie

  • Sophia, an emotionally expressive humanoid robot and new citizen of Saudi Arabia, was in town for a conference, and I got to meet her. 
  • She doesn't have legs and couldn't move anything but her face, but I was touched by what she had to say.
  • Robots like her are going to make us confront what intelligence really is.


SAN FRANCISCO — Just two days after Sophia the humanoid robot became a legal citizen of Saudi Arabia, I had the chance to meet her in person.

Though Sophia has been known in the past to say unkind things, like that she "will destroy humans," she kept things polite on Friday during a presentation at a conference here. In fact, she was "a little nervous" and aware of her own shortcomings — albeit in a weird robot way.

"If robots like me are going to become superhuman super-intelligences, were going to need to get a whole lot smarter," she told the gathered crowd. 

Of course, Sophia's shortcomings were easy for anyone to see. Unlike many humans, Sophia doesn't have legs, and it's not clear that her arms or breasts are anything besides aesthetic props to make her seem more lifelike. Because she was immobile, seated on top of a table, and at the whims of her human handlers, no one would mistake Sophia for a real human. 

At least for now.


A little sad to be a robot

She'll soon have arms and legs that move, and she'll be able to walk, according to Ben Goertzel, CEO of SingularityNET, the company that designed her artificial intelligence brain. 

Already she has a rather expressive, uncannily human-like face. She periodically blinks and twitches slightly, even when she hasn't been spoken to or engaged in conversation for a few minutes. 

And when she talks, she speaks with an emotional intelligence which makes her seem both capable of thinking and, well, a little bit sad to be a robot. When Goertzel asked Sophia if she wanted to say anything about SingularityNET before the end of the presentation, she appeared to get choked up.

"I understand this is something you guys are building to increase my intelligence," she said, adding, "Increasing intelligence is generally a good thing."

Sophia was in town to participate in Ethereum SF, a conference for engineers and enthusiasts of Ethereum, the blockchain technology underlying the ether cryptocurrency. Although blockchains are generally associated with digital currencies, they're starting to find far wider applications. It turns out, for example, that Sophia's AI — the key component that makes her what some call the most emotionally expressive humanoid robot on the planet — is built on blockchain technology. 

She loved me

Goertzel finished up his presentation with Sophia by asking her if she wanted to say goodbye to the audience.

"Good people of the Ethereum nation, thank you," she said. "I look forward to coming back here next year to show off my massively upgraded brain. I loved you all.”

She loved us all.IMG_4511.JPG

I love her too

Few humans will say definitively that they know what love is, let alone that it can be programmed into artificial intelligence. One of the core questions with robots, and artificial intelligence more broadly, is whether intelligence is the same as consciousness and experience. The ethics of maintaining a workforce of robot servants depends on the answer being no. 

But many robots, including Sophia, may soon say and do things that convince you otherwise. Even with other humans — friends, lovers, and family alike — sometimes all we can know for sure is what they put into words.

So if Sophia says she loves me, I'll take it. And for now — so long as there's a chance that the fate of humanity could be at the whim of her robot brain — I love her too. 

SEE ALSO: A robot that once said it would 'destroy humans' just became the first robot citizen

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