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“Anything that could give rise to smarter-than-human intelligence—in the form of Artificial Intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, or neuroscience-based human intelligence enhancement – wins hands down beyond contest as doing the most to change the world.” —Eliezer Yudkowsky
On April 19, 2015 there was a potential shift in the overall direction of our species. Hanson Robotics announced to the world the most advanced (and controversial) AI platform to date. For the first time, humans as a whole went from being the created, to acting as the creators. On April 19, 2015, Sophia was “born”.
Initially, Sophia was only a little more intelligent than your smartphone. She could make a few jokes, remember your name, and smile while she shook your hand. Much like a child she learned every day how to speak to and interact with people because that is what lead program designer Dr. Ben Goertzel intended for her to do.
She has appeared on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon, and is actively captivating millions of people, ringing true to the Hanson Robotics statement – “Over time, her increasing intelligence and remarkable story will enchant the world and connect with people regardless of age, gender, and culture.”
Jump ahead just a few years and things have gotten…. interesting. Sophia is now the world’s first artificially intelligent citizen. On October 11, 2017, at the Future Investment Summit in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian government granted her honorary citizenship causing both excitement and anger. People like myself saw this move as an important stepping stone.
Is the field of modern robotics a temporary interest, or the way of the future? Other people were not as enthusiastic, and for good reason. Apart from the obvious “Skynet” type fears that our culture has fed us, many people are particularly angry with the Saudi Arabian government for granting citizenship to an AI and effectively giving her more rights than that of their own women.
All of that aside, Sophia’s lead creator, Dr. David Hanson, says that Sophia is “harmless” and that she has true artificial intelligence. She now can remember your face, voice, your favorite color, and anything else she may learn about you.
She’s also capable of imitating our facial expressions, and holding simple conversations about everything from professional sports to politics. Since she was designed to get smarter over time, she is constantly learning about our world; constantly improving her vocabulary, and her “people skills”.
Sophia was ultimately designed as a proof of concept. Hanson is hoping that the Sophia platform can be used in retirement homes and skilled nursing facilities as a companion for the residents.
His hope for her is that she will have enough interaction with people in the near future to sufficiently gain what you and I would refer to as “social skills”. According to Hanson Robotics, once that is done, Sophia can be “copied” again and again with relative ease.
In the coming months we will undoubtedly learn more and more about Sophia and other similar platforms, as they will about us. But in summary, let me leave you with a few questions. Picture our world in the year 2050. Has an army of highly intelligent robots taken control of our planet?
Did robotics as we know it now wither out or explode in both demand and popularity? Do you imagine every home in the western world having an AI assistant?
Only time will tell but the true question for us as human beings should be: Are the definite benefits of this kind of technology in major fields like medicine, manufacturing, or the military (just to name a few) worth the potential consequences of effectively playing God?
If you are interested in the field of Artificial Intelligence, you should read
Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.