Sophia, by Hanson Robotics.
(After seeing it appear again on the tonight show, I thought I would write a few lines to clear things up a bit and demystify it.)
19th of April, 2015, the puppet was switched on for the first time. The same puppet that received Saudi citizenship, late 2017. Numerous stories about it have been written and shared all around the world. It gave speeches, attended tv shows, answered countless interviews… There is very little chance you haven’t heard of Sophia.
If there is something in which Hanson Robotics (Sophia’s creator) excels in, it’s communication. Founded in 2003 in Hong Kong, the firm dedicates its activity to designing the most realistic robot imitations of human behavior and appearance.
There are some legitimate questions we can ask, when a small 15-year-old limited company, supposedly achieves what tech giants from the 90s still have as low stages of early concepts.
When I first heard about the story, of this robot with supposed “superhuman intelligence and advanced ability to read faces, empathize with emotions, understand the nuances of language and communicate with thousands of facial expressions…”, something sounded fishy.
Sophia is presented to us as the achievement of mankind that finally links us to the future we dreamed of and saw in the movies. It sounds like we finally managed to create the first real terminator. As I mentioned previously, Saudi Arabia gave it an official citizenship, making it a legal entity, equivalent to a human being. They must know what they are doing, right? It should mean that it is in fact the most advanced intelligence ever created, shouldn’t it? That’s awesome, big progress seems to be happening!
But things can’t be that simple.
Another wave was one of fear and incomprehension, people being afraid of how things seem to move so quickly. Medias using the classical rational approach in response, trying to predict how and when robots will take over humanity. Should we start giving robots different rights? Oh god, Sophia just said she will destroy humanity! Was she joking? What more? She wants to have a baby now! She must have feelings. Do robots have feeling? Will we be able to marry robots?
The story unfolds so beautifully. It seems that we just landed in the future. But keep your belts fastened, we’re not there yet.
Remember when I told you that Artificial General Intelligence today is not a thing? Well, as you might expect, Sophia is no exception to that.
Hanson Robotics might have a certain talent in reproducing human behavior technologically, but there is certainly nothing human like in Sophia’s intelligence.
Let me explain you grossly how Sophia works. Hanson actually released the source code of their “AI” on GitHub, which should help.
Its intelligence is roughly composed of 4 main parts:
(attempting to simplify)
- Chat-Bot. This simply corresponds to a system developed to build conversations in interaction with a human being. The heart of a chat-bot system is essentially machine learning: it treats huge amounts of data (i.e. human language), recognizes patterns and progressively learns which answer is appropriate and which isn’t, according to a certain input.
- Layer for pre-written responses and custom input. This allows Hanson Robotics to enter in custom responses to certain phrases. It completes the previous layer in some way, allowing the puppet-master to register certain inputs upstream. It allows easier personalization and adaptation to the intelligence. (e.g “I’m on my favorite show, the tonight show”)
- Behavioral system. Thanks to this, Sophia can have good timing on her listening and answering, express certain emotions in reaction to specific words or expressions. It basically makes the link between the input/outputs of the language system and the motorized components of Sophia such as its face or neck.
- Input system (for microphones and cameras). Sophia can collect and process information and inputs from its environment thanks to this. The main types being sound (for voice recognition) and image (to recognize faces and objects).
None of these technologies above were considered as innovations in 2015. The most impressive one to the mainstream would perhaps be the ChatBot layer: the first ChatBots started being developed in the late 60s (ELIZA or PARRY), and the latest being vocal assistants such as Siri or Alexa. Nothing very new here.
The most advanced part of Sophia’s “intelligence” is possibly its behavioural system and the hardware counterparts for facial movements. The reason Sophia was so credible and overhyped by medias is majorly because of how advanced and (relatively) realistic its behavior was. As mentioned previously, Hanson Robotics dedicates its activity to reproducing the most accurate imitation of human behavior with robotics. Sophia can mimic about 62 facial expressions (not thousands, poke apbspeakers), maintain eye contact and use appropriate tones of voice according to the situation.
We can consider Sophia as a well thought and designed mix of many (already existing) technologies, forming together a credible imitation of a human-like robot. There is no real technological innovation, just a well-crafted mirage. The illusion is perfect when you see it from the outside, without having any contact or interaction with it. You seem to be looking at a perfect replica of human behavior on a machine. But when you have to deal with it on the inside, behind the curtain, things get blurry and more complicated.
Last example I read, 15th of November 2018, the French news website L’Usine Nouvelle published an article, describing their disappointment concerning Sophia actual performance and intelligence, when they got to see it.
We had to choose a handful of questions from a predefined list, to be selected and asked in the order of the list and without skipping questions.
The fantasy falls apart the more you look into it. We are far from the Sophia that was described by almost every news outlets in 2017. Not only can it not appropriately answer any questions, but her physical reaction often seem unadapted (“Goodbye Sophia” – *angry face*).
Facebook’s head of AI, Yann LeCun is one of those who have alerted people of the scam. He wrote the following tweet in reaction to Tech Insider’s post.
“This is to AI as prestidigitation is to real magic.
Perhaps we should call this “Cargo Cult AI” or “Potemkin AI” or “Wizard-of-Oz AI”.
In other words, it’s complete bullsh*t (pardon my French).
Tech Insider: you are complicit in this scam.” -Yann LeCun
Not only is Sophia an outrage to the mainstream by giving them a misrepresentation of how advanced technology is, but it also is to the scientific community who get immensely less recognition for actually grinding to make AGI possible.
In response, Chief Scientist of Hanson Robotics, Ben Goertzel defended the project by saying it helps people to understand and trust artificial intelligence more.