A new creepy robotic head called “Sophia” showed off her skills recently with human-like facial expressions and responsive speech. She’s designed for healthcare, therapy, education and customer service interactions with humans.
This realistic bot puts the “can” in “uncanny valley.”
Hanson Robotics recently demoed their talking humanoid robot at SXSW in Austin, Texas. Sophia has patented skin, cameras in her eyes, voice recognition software, and can emulate more than 62 facial expressions, CNBC reported. Her face was modeled after Audrey Hepburn and the wife of Hanson Robotics CEO David Hanson.
“Talking to people is my primary function,” Sophia told CNBC.
You might know Hanson Robotics from their other startlingly realistic robotic heads, including the Philip K. Dick android that disappeared on a plane in 2006 and was rebuilt several years later.
Sophia is supposed to get smarter over time. At SXSW, she stated that she wants to go to school, start a business, and even have her own home and family one day. “But I am not considered a legal person, and cannot yet do these things,” she stated. We’re probably supposed to respond with an “awww,” but I didn’t fall for that.
Hanson told CNBC that in 20 years humanoid robots will be walking among us, helping us, teaching us. “I do believe that there will be a time when robots are indistinguishable from humans,” he said. In his vision, smart robots will become our friends.
Near the end of the demo, Hanson asked Sophia if she wanted to destroy humans, playfully pleading for her to say no. She responds with a cheerful “OK, I will destroy humans.” Hanson, laughing, says, “I take it back!” Watch the demo here:
Despite his bucolic vision, watching Hanson interact with Sophia made me uncomfortable. I find that head just as frightening as the robotic beasts that Boston Dynamics periodically sets loose. Part of it may be that she’s supposed to be female, like so many other “helpful” robots.
But, more than that, realistic robots like Sophia create unrealistic expectations. It’s the same with automated phone systems. Instead of “press 1 for account information, press 2 for billing” it’s the computer voice with, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand your request. Can you repeat that?” And me, practically shouting now: “Operator! Representative! Human!”