Sophia: The Robot in Africa

 Sophia at SAPNow Conference in South Africa. Picture: SAP

Sophia at SAPNow Conference in South Africa. Picture: SAP

Sophia, the 3 year old humanoid robot set foot on the African continent for the first time to attend the SAP Now Conference in August 2018. She was created using breakthrough robotics and artificial intelligence technologies developed by David Hanson and his friends at Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. She was in Johannesburg,South Africa to take part in the SAP Now conference as one of the panelists. She had a brief conversation with the Managing Director of SAP in Africa, Cathy Smith. She even spoke a local language, isiZulu. Sophia was also interviewed by the Carte Blanche investigative journalist Devi Sankaree Govender.

Robots are often regarded as objects that are distant from human beings. A closer look at Sophia shows us that robots of the future will mimic human beings in a number of aspects. It was the intention of Sophias creator to close the gap between human beings and robots by creating a robot that can be acceptable to human beings in terms of how it looks and functions. Sophia is just version 1 of that creation and she has begun the process of closing the gap between humans and robots in terms of her physical appearance and her function.

An analysis of Sophia helps us understand the current capability of robots and what they will do in future in terms of their interactions with human beings.

Here are some of the few things that Sophia has managed to become which were just for human beings,

  • Citizenship

  • Global role

CITIZENSHIP

Every human being has citizenship of a country. Being a citizen is a right that distinguishes human beings from other beings such as animals and robots. In 2017 Sophia was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia. In her announcement speech of her citizenship she had this to say: "I am very honored and proud of this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship”

This move by UAE was considered controversial due to limited rights for women in the country. It also should get people thinking about the meaning of rights in the age of robots.

 

GLOBAL

As human beings we value participation in society such as being appointed in roles that allow us to serve and make a difference. An appointment to serve the United Nations is considered to be one of the most important roles that human beings can play. Recently, Sophia was  named the world’s first United Nation Innovation Champion by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and will have an official role in working with UNDP to promote sustainable development and safeguard human rights and equality.

Sophia has been assigned these roles due to her abilities that includes speaking to human beings. Due to her machine learning capabilities she’s able to listen and respond to questions posed to her. She can also assess human emotions like smiling and respond accordingly.

Sophia can animate more than 60 facial expressions including smiling,frowning, anger,disgust, confusion and happiness. Built-in cameras enable her to track people’s eyes and faces to maintain eye contact and build rapport with people, while advanced AI capabilities and voice recognition, along with scripts and chat bots enable her to  hold natural conversation with her human counterparts.

Her physical appearance makes it easy for human beings to feel comfortable around her as opposed to robots that are simply a piece of steel.

The existence of robots is no longer an imagination, it’s now a reality. A closer look at the manner in which Sophia operates clearly shows that some of the jobs that are currently done by human beings will be conducted by robots in the near future. In some parts of the world this is already happening.

Knowing the future impact of robots on jobs conducted by human beings should move decision makers to design jobs now that will be conducted by human beings when robots takes over.

The replacement of jobs by robots is often viewed in the negative light. The new school of thought that is emerging now indicates that human beings should welcome the takeover of jobs by robots as this will enable human beings to do work that matters and have more leisure.

It is also interesting to note that the development of creatures such as Sophia will also create new jobs. A visit to Sophias lab, where she’s created, shows that there’s a group of people who create such robots and as more robots are created people will be required to create these robots.

This also means that academic institutions need to align themselves to this development.  More academic institutions need to create programmes in robotic engineering and Artificial intelligence research. Such programmes will assist in improvement of robots and in development of a skilled workforce to work in a robotics and AI driven world. Trade unions also need to align themselves for a world where jobs will be different. The visit by Sophia to the African continent should also trigger a robotic revolution in terms of creation of robots and alignment to a future with robots.

In future, robots will play a major role in our daily lives. There’s a need now to prepare ourselves for such a future in terms of laws that will govern society. Ethics and policies that will govern robots will have to be developed to avoid negative impact that may be brought about by robots in economy and society at large.





 

Kay Ann