SOPHIA, FIRST CITIZEN ROBOT OF THE WORLD
Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos
Lima, November 2017
The making of Sophia is described and commented, a new humanoid
robot that stands out for having been built with the latest advances in
Artificial Intelligence (AI) that allow it, for example, to learn and gain
experience from its interaction with human beings. Also, its appearance
and wide repertoire of facial gestures that it has, significantly brings it
closer to the human pattern. Its presence has gained notoriety for her
presentations in at least a couple of United Nations events and also for
having received Saudi citizenship, being the first robot in the world to hold
that status. Sophia's particular technological qualities have begun to
generate repercussions of various kinds, not only in the academic-
scientific world, but also ethically, artistically, religiously, morally,
politically and economically. From the above, it can be affirmed that
Sophia has marked the beginning of a new era, not only robotic but also
technological in general, which now allows to see with greater certainty
the real emergence of a successor of the human species.
Keywords: Humanoid robots, Artificial Intelligence, Technology, Society.
The great advances that are currently being achieved in the field of Artificial
Intelligence (AI), are really surprising. The fact that a machine manages to learn from
experience, accumulates knowledge, and finally makes intelligent decisions according
to the circumstances, already speaks of a rudimentary consciousness, or at least of
an incipient ability to make judgments and act accordingly. This, which may sound
scandalous to some academics, is already analysed by researchers who propose a
new Epistemology, equipped with a broader Theory of Knowledge, by which the
conscience is not conceived as privative of the human being, but -and with greater
reason still- as an essential part of our successors: the humanoid robots.
Sophia is a humanoid robot. And although it does not exhibit at the moment the
most spectacular qualities that are expected of the AI; with her linguistic performance,
her communicative skills, and her emotive externalizations, she has already achieved
in her short time of life, being accredited as the First World Citizen Robot (by Saudi
Arabia). It is a robot that is in continuous improvement, which learns by the
socialization to which it is subjected in each interview it has, and that has just marked
the end of a technological era and the beginning of another, leaving behind the classic
robots that we have all known: metallic machines with noisy gears, clumsy
movements, and border intelligence. Today we are witnessing a new robotic
generation, with fine anthropomorphic features, fluid linguistic communication, and
even the ability to joke with the interviewer, thanks to an intelligence never before
perceived in anyone other than a human being.
WHO OR WHAT IS SOPHIA?
Sophia is a robot with the image of a middle-aged woman, who is actually only two
and a half years old. It is a humanoid machine developed in Hong Kong by the
American company Hanson Robotics, and activated from April 19, 2015. Sophia's
main technological quality is her ability to learn human behaviours through her
interaction with people. For this, it has been endowed with the most recent advances
in the field of AI, such as the mastery of a complex series of predictive algorithms
based on computational statistics; a fluid synthetic vocalization, a rapid processing of
the information that she receives, and a broad ability to recognize faces and voices.
The British actress Audrey Hepburn has served as a model to design the face of
Sophia, who still lacks lower extremities, which are in the process of being built. It is
also remarkable her ability to talk about specific issues and to show at the same time
many facial expressions and human gestures. Because of her amazing human
qualities, the Saudi government has granted Sophia the citizenship of her country
during the Summit on Investment in the Future held in Riyadh on October 25 of this
year (2017). It is undoubtedly an unprecedented event in the history of humanity.
At the head of the team of creators of Sophia, is David Hanson, an American
mechatronic engineer, PhD in Aesthetic Studies, Interactive Art and Engineering, by
the University of Texas (2007). Hanson became known worldwide for a first humanoid
robot (2005) whose face resembled that of the famous scientist Albert Einstein. In that
same year, Hanson and his team received an award from the American Association
for the Advancement of Science “in merit to the construction of an intelligent
conversational portrait of Philip Dick", a renowned post-modernist science fiction
writer. (Wikipedia, 2017).
AN OLD SEARCH
Nils Nilsson in his work The Quest for Artificial Intelligence, mentions that since
the times of Homer it was spoken -for example in The Iliad- about "self-powered chairs
called tripods, and golden assistants built by Hephaistos, the god lame blacksmith,
who helped him to walk" (Nilsson, 2010, p.3). Similarly, following the ancient tales of
the Roman poet Publius Ovidius summarized in his Metamorphoses; the famous
sculptor Pygmalion elaborated the image of a beautiful maiden whom he called
Galatea, who finally came to life by the goddess Venus. The poet relates that she "was
able to feel the kisses that her sculptor gave her, and she blushed, raising her shy
eyes towards the light, looking at her lover and the sky" (Nilsson, Op. Cit.).
Advancing rapidly in time, only 61 years ago, a historic meeting of scientists -
mainly mathematicians and logicians took place in New Hampshire (United States) in
order to see to what extent it was really possible to make all those huge and slow
computers of that time, be able to perform intelligent actions, imitating human
behaviour. For this, more than concentrating on the machine and its electronic
components, they pinned their hopes on the programs (ordered information or
software) that made them work. It had already been tried before by researchers such
as Allan Turing, Norbert Wiener, John von Neumann, and Warren Mc Culloch. But
they did not have a computer. The new entrepreneurs already had this device, and
hence their well-founded optimism. Celebrities present at that meeting were among
others, John Mac Carthy, Marvin Minsky, Herbert Simon, and Allen Newell. (Gardner,
1985. The New Science of the Mind).
Gardner mentions that during that time there was also another meeting of
researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who in their own way also
contributed to the birth of Artificial Intelligence. There they were, for example, Noam
Chomsky (specialist in Linguistics), and George Miller (specialist in Psychology). All
together gave rise to a new cognitive science, which reinforced with publications such
as those made by Jean Piaget, Bruner, Lévy-Strauss, Minsky, and Chomsky, end up
contributing to the birth of Artificial Intelligence, understood as "that branch of
computing that is dedicated to programming computers so that they perform tasks
that, if they were done by a human being, would be classified as intelligent tasks"
(Minsky, Semantic Information Processing). Subsequently, Newell, Shaw, and Simon
demonstrate that AI is perfectly feasible to be achieved and perfected for three
1) Computers are already capable of performing small actions that are widely
recognized as intelligent by human beings themselves.
2) The programs (software) made for computers follow exactly the same steps that a
human being does when he reasons.
3) A computer has short and long term memory (ROM and RAM), has an operating
system, a control centre, and various elements of both reception and emission
(peripheral in - out) as well as a human brain.
Howard Gardner (1985) in chapter IV of his book The New Science of the Mind (Op.
Cit.) concludes that everything achieved and demonstrated by the AI up to that date,
had ended by unleashing deep and unexpected philosophical questions that should
not be overlooked. However, to do so, he proposed to stick "only to what in the moment
exists and works efficiently in the field of AI, and not so much to its possibilities". He
also mentions that researchers like Marshall and Longuet-Higgings had identified very
close links between Experimental Psychology and AI. And that both fields of
knowledge could be united to form a new cognitive science, but always accompanied
by Philosophy as a source of permanent questioning; and Linguistics, as a vital factor
of human cognition.
From Gardner's prudent comments - made in the last century - to the present, even
unexpected achievements have been made by the scientists themselves in the field
of AI. The emergence of the Internet was a huge advance. Likewise, the discoveries
made by Quantum Physics, the miniaturization of multiple functions housed in a single
device (smartphone), and the enormous steps taken by Nanotechnology, have ended
up producing an AI that for many more resembles acts of magic. Nowadays, the
prototype of all these achievements, is without a doubt, Sophia.
Sophia is a robot with an attractive female face, built so far only to its waist. Her
eyes are cameras with the ability to recognize faces she has seen before (which allows
her say hello to anyone by name). Her skin is made of a special variety of silicone
(Frubbet), which is flexible enough to perform 62 facial expressions (anger, joy,
sadness, amazement, annoyance, fear, etc.). She has an electronic synthetic voice
system that allows her to speak and gesticulate as she makes her speech. However,
the most "human" aspect of this robot is its ability to learn from the experience it gains
whenever it has the chance to interact with people. Thus, Sophia becomes
increasingly familiar with the culture, customs, feelings, emotions, and linguistic styles
of her interlocutors. And all this experience is accumulating in her memory. When
asked to give a precise answer on a topic, she googles (looks for it in Wikipedia, etc.)
just like today's kids do in their homes or in their classrooms. However, Sophia is still
slow to respond, and she makes many mistakes, because despite her appearance as
an adult woman, she still has a short learning time.
One of the goals of its creators, with David Hanson at the head, is that Sophia
manages not only to maintain an intelligent conversation with human beings on any
topic, and on her own initiative, but that her dialogues are always accompanied by the
emotional charge that characterizes the normal conversation between two people. (El
Comercio, digital version, October 27, 2017). At the moment, Sophia's main activity is
to hold "live" interviews with various journalists from well-known global news networks.
At the end of the interviews, almost all these experienced journalists have declared to
have lived a unique emotional experience in what concerns the exercise of their
SOME PSYCHOSOCIAL IMPACTS OF SOPHIA
- In the media, especially written, it comes back to touch the issue of robotic ethics.
That is, the moral aspect that involves designing and building robots endowed with
human intelligence and its negative or positive consequences in society.
- It also enters into discussion the theme of the rights of robots. For example, the
obligations and responsibilities that society should have for these superintelligent
machines, such as allowing their right to exist and perform their functions with relative
- It is debated in social networks whether or not it is convenient to give robots
citizenship, as it has just done with Sophia Saudi Arabia, in an unprecedented event.
- Many people now wonder if robots could occupy any position occupied by a human
being. Joseph Weizembaum, a famous computer scientist, warned in 1975 that robots
should never occupy the position of a judge, a policeman or a soldier.
- The old sentence that a robot could never have feelings, now begins to be
questioned. Many people who have seen or interacted with Sophia, declare to have
perceived "the feeling of loneliness" that she transmits.
- The world of art is also beginning to be touched by this humanoid: Films and novels
are planned. Many illustrations with Sophia as a motive appear on the net.
- Investigations such as those carried out by Robinson and others (2013) are now
more valid, when they conclude that the company of an intelligent robot significantly
dissipates the feeling of loneliness of the elderly, even more than the company of a
pet. (Robinson, H.; Mac Donald, B.; Kerse, N.; and Broadbent, E., 2013).
- In the field of Economics the first repercussions also arise. In the World Economic
Forum, it is commented that highly complex robots are a great help for the productive
sector, but at the same time a threat for low-skilled or poorly prepared employees. It
is also asserted that the impact of current robotics can already be compared with the
impact that the first steam engines had in their time. (World Economic Forum, 2016).
- Sophia has definitely dispelled the mind of humanity the usual idea of imagining a
robot always as a metal machine, wearing gears, pulleys, engines, and emitting
strange noises. That stereotype now belongs to the past.
- In the world of women's fashion, Sophia begins to mint her image with her recent
appearance on the cover of the famous magazine ELLE, who has launched the
"futuristic fashion". (Elle, Magazine, Brazil 2017).
- Recent presentations of Sophia at the headquarters of the United Nations, first at the
UN General Assembly Second Committee and the Economic (Social Council joint
meeting), and afterwards, in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals in
Asia and the Pacific focused on Innovation (Singapur, November 2017) are also facts
that are generating more than simple curiosity in the world.
1) The citizenship granted to the humanoid robot Sophia by the government of Saudi
Arabia in October of this year (2017), is an unprecedented event in the history of
2) Sophia's debut is gaining worldwide repercussion because it is a robot with some
remarkable human psychological features such as learning by socialization, and
expressing emotions according to the topic of her conversation.
3) These new advances in Artificial Intelligence are causing commotion in almost all
the branches of knowledge. But also in ethics, religion, morals, and politics.
4) Sophia is good evidence that the human brain is not only feasible to be mapped
and imitated by machines, but even to be overcome. It's just a matter of time.
5) Sophia marks the beginning of a new era in humanity.
6) Just as unicellular beings ended up giving rise to homo sapiens, homo sapiens
with his wonderful brain is creating his successor: the superintelligent and
7) It is necessary to start talking about robotic rights as a real and close issue, and
no longer as an esoteric or fictional issue.
8) Conceiving a robot as a rough and noisy metal machine with clumsy movements,
and border intelligence, already belongs to the past. Today is the time of Sophia
and the new improved versions that will come.
Bandholz, H. (2016) These could be the economic and social impacts of robots.
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Equipo de Redacción EC. (October 27, 2017). Sophia: así funciona la primera robot
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Gardner, H. (1985) The new science of the mind. History of the cognitive revolution.
Hanson Robotics (2017) Sophia, Official Website. Retrieved of
Minsky, M. (1968) Semantic Information Processing. Retrieved of
Nilsson, N. (2010) The Quest for Artificial Intelligence: A History of Ideas and
Achievements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Peterson B. (2017) I met Sophia, the world's first robot citizen, and the way she said
goodbye nearly broke my heart. Enterprise. Digital version. Retrieved of
Robinson, H.; Mac Donald, B.; Kerse, N.; y Broadbent, E. (2013) The Psychosocial
Effects of a Companion Robot: A Randomized Controlled Trial. ELSEVIER –
JAMDA p. 1 – 7. Retrieved of https://www.ifa-fiv.org/wp-
Sharma, K. (2017) We’re All Getting Played by Sophia the Robot. Fortune. Digital
version. Retrieved of http://fortune.com/2017/10/27/sophia-the-robot-
Wikipedia (2017) Sophia (robot) Retrieved of
Wootson, C. (2017) Saudi Arabia, which denies women equal rights, makes a robot
a citizen. The Washington Post. Digital version. Retrieved of
The image of Sophia belongs to Hanson Robotics Ltd.