If we’re talking about some of the finest robotics firms in the world that are the changing the field of robotics and ushering our world to a new and more advanced age of AI, then one of the names on the top of the list would be Hanson Robotics. Named after the founder, David Hanson, Hanson Robotics has been working for the better part of the last two decades. Their efforts have mostly been to replicate human beings in the aspects of look, feel and even thinking. They even use a special patented elastomer skin material called Frubber that is extremely resembling to actual human skin. All of their robots with facial features are made of Frubber.
History of the Company
When it comes to Hanson Robotics, the company strives to be the first at everything. As of today, Hanson Robotics Limited holds the record for creating the first walking robot, the first interactive humanoid robot bust and the world’s first robot citizen.
The company started off in our own backyard of Texas. But, as you can imagine, robotics in Texas can be quite challenging. So, in 2013, the company shifted HQ to the Hong Kong Science Park and established a robotics hub there. The company consists of a team of 45 employees with Ben Goertzel as the Chief Scientist. Goertzel has been a key part in the world of Artificial Intelligence and over the years, he’s been the CEO of several AI-based computing firms.
The company itself has stated that the primary purpose behind the construction of their robots is to create machines that mimic humans in both appearance and behavior. While they’re still working out the first of the two aspects, the second one is pretty up-to-date. Hanson Robotics’ site says that the firm is trying to create intelligent but at the same time, empathetic robots that are not only suitable for work, but also great at companionship. They’re teaching their robots emotions and just mere ‘feeling’ from each interaction that they have.
The first recognizable robot Hanson put forward was a machine name Albert Einstein HUBO. It was released in 2005 with the help of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. The machine was made to look like Albert Einstein, which it actually did with the help of a few talented artists and, like we said before, Hanson’s Flabber material. The robot was presented at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in the November of 2005. This was the first time that the world saw a robotic head hooked up to a moving machine. The machine was able to express realistic human emotions and well as replicate Einstein’s voice through a voice synthesizer.
Some Other Robots
Hanson Robotics was also credited for the making of the BINA48 (Breakthrough Intelligence via Neural Architecture 48). The reason behind the construction of this robot is pretty interesting. It was funded by millionaire entrepreneur Martine Rothblatt. The reason why Rothblatt wanted Hanson to make the BINA48 was that she wanted a robot to look and talk like her actual spouse Bina Rothblatt. BINA48 had over 30 motors under her face to produce real life expressions from underneath her Frubber skin. BINA48 was actually loaded with all sorts of information from the real-life Bina like her likes, dislikes, memories, attitudes and also some of Bina’s favorite books which the robot can recite.
Han was one of the first robots from Hanson Robotics that wasn’t just meant to mimic human emotions, it was also designed to detect them. Han was bald with extremely masculine features including a deep British accent who specialized at making humorous facial expressions. Han was extremely capable of detecting human emotions. His face was equipped with dozens of cameras that enabled him to ‘see’ how they’re feeling. Apart from this, Han was also able to detect the person’s age and gender as well.
Well, you may be thinking that we’re missing out on the very best robot Hanson Robotics has ever created. Well, don’t worry about that, because we have saved the best for last. We know exactly how special Sophia is, and the rest of this article is going to be about her, the most advanced AI interactive robot known to mankind today. Let’s talk about what makes Sophia special.
What is Sophia?
By definition, Sophia is a social humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics. Sophia was booted up on February 14, 2016 and made her first show at the South by Southwest Festival in 2016 in Texas. In October of 2017, Sophia was declared the first ever robot to receive citizenship for any country. She received citizenship of Saudi Arabia during the Future Investment Summit in Riyadh.
Sophia was modeled to replicate the actress Audrey Hepburn and is able to perform over 50 facial expressions. According to Hanson, Sophia was made to use visual image processing, voice and facial recognition and artificial intelligence to do all of the things it is capable of doing today. The thing that sets her apart from other robots of her age is that she isn’t programmed to understand emotions. For example, Sophia doesn’t need to be told that a person crying means that person is sad. Sophia learns this on her own through a serious of social interactions with human beings.
Prior to 2018, Sophia was just like a human torso that had to be carried around. But, around January of 2018, she was equipped with her, enabling her to walk around. A lot of people compare Sophia to a chatbot, saying that she can only do what her makers tell her to do and say. But, this is not true at all. Sophia uses some mechanics from a software called ELIZA, who was indeed a typical chatbot. But, unlike chatbots, Sophia will never say, “I didn’t understand your question”. Sophia can analyze questions and answer in such a philosophical way that has often left interviewers dumbfounded at the answer. While, there have been certain situations in which the interviewers have described her answers as just plain ‘awkward’.
Sophia has been widely appreciated all over the world and has received a tremendous amount of media attention. She has been invited to CBS 60 Minutes with Charlie Rose, Good Morning Britain with Piers Morgan while also making appearances on outlets like the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Mashable, Forbes, ELLE and CNBC.
Controversy and Community Backlash
Once Sophia started gaining all that media attention, there was expected to be some controversy surrounding the robot, and boy, was there controversy. Basically, it all started when some people, that had seen the source code from her programming, started complaining that the code looked pretty similar to a chatbot and disproved that Sophia ever had the capability of understanding the depths of a conversation and responding appropriately. Goertzel, the Chief Science at Hanson Robotics, claimed that they never said Sophia was an equal to a human when it comes down to intelligence, however, it is also wrong to think that it’s nowhere close. However, the controversies kept on coming as people called Sophia, a chatbot with a face.
In 2017, Hanson appeared on Jimmy Falon and was quoted saying that Sophia is ‘alive’. This would again generate a ton of backlash as the AI in Sophia was nowhere near as good as a human and calling a robot ‘alive’ was a pretty skeptical statement to begin with. However, Goertzel would say that Hanson’s quote was just a sign symbolizing that Sophia is close to its completion.
But, this wouldn’t make the community back down. Facebook’s Director of Artificial Intelligence Yann LeCun would say that Sophia was just Potemkin AI, meaning that Sophia’s AI was exaggerated to look way more sophisticated and advanced than it actually it. Goertzel would once again reply that he never pretended that Sophia was intelligent on a human level.
Sophia’s Upcoming Tours
Well, you can already guess that meeting Sophia isn’t going to be a piece of cake. The robot is often brought out to audience-filled rooms for interviews and several other types of sessions. However, there aren’t any scheduled in the next couple of months. But, Sophia is at the Ogden UnCon from June 7-9, 2019. A bit late, but if you can check her out, you should.
Apart from that, Sophia the Robot can also be invited as a speaker to events through APB Speakers that are a close associate to Hanson Robotics. If you have an event that needs the smartest and most emotional robot in the world as it’s speaker, then you can contact APB Speakers and request Sophia’s availability.