Sophia is a humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics. It has been designed to respond to questions, and has been interviewed around the world. In October 2017, the robot became a Saudi Arabian citizen, the first robot to receive citizenship of any country.
Sophia was activated on April 19, 2015. The robot is modeled after actress Audrey Hepburn, and is known for its human-like appearance and behavior compared to previous robotic variants. According to the manufacturer, David Hanson, Sophia uses artificial intelligence, visual data processing and facial recognition. Sophia also imitates human gestures and facial expressions and is able to answer certain questions and to make simple conversations on predefined topics (e.g. on the weather). The robot uses voice recognition technology from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google) and is designed to get smarter over time. Sophia's intelligence software is designed by SingularityNET. The AI program analyses conversations and extracts data that allows it to improve responses in the future.
Hanson designed Sophia to be a suitable companion for the elderly at nursing homes, or to help crowds at large events or parks. He hopes that the robot can ultimately interact with other humans sufficiently to gain social skills.
Sophia is conceptually similar to the computer program ELIZA, which was one of the first attempts at simulating a human conversation. The software has been programmed to give pre-written responses to specific questions or phrases, like a chatbot. These responses are used to create the illusion that the robot is able to understand conversation, including stock answers to questions like "Is the door open or shut?" The information is shared in a cloud network which allows input and responses to be analysed with blockchain technology. The robot's range of facial expressions are facilitated by its artificial "frubber" skin, which is mechanically manipulated.
Sophia has been interviewed in the same manner as a human, striking up conversations with hosts. Some replies have been nonsensical, while others have been impressive, such as lengthy discussions with Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes. In a piece for CNBC, when the interviewer expressed concerns about robot behavior, Sophia joked that he had "been reading too much Elon Musk. And watching too many Hollywood movies". Musk tweeted that Sophia could watch The Godfather and suggested "what's the worst that could happen?" Business Insider's chief UK editor Jim Edwards interviewed Sophia, and while the answers were "not altogether terrible", he predicted it was a step towards "conversational artificial intelligence".
On October 11, 2017, Sophia was introduced to the United Nations with a brief conversation with the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed. On October 25, at the Future Investment Summit in Riyadh, the robot was granted Saudi Arabian citizenship, becoming the first robot ever to have a nationality. This attracted controversy as some commentators wondered if this implied that Sophia could vote or marry, or whether a deliberate system shutdown could be considered murder. Social media users used Sophia's citizenship to criticize Saudi Arabia's human rights record. As explained by Ali Al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, "Women (in Saudi Arabia) have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around [without a male guardian]. Saudi law doesn’t allow non-Muslims to get citizenship. Did Sophia convert to Islam? What is the religion of this Sophia and why isn’t she wearing hijab? If she applied for citizenship as a human she wouldn’t get it."