Sophia the Robot, More Marketing Machine Than AI Marvel?
Sophia the robot. (source - ITU Pictures on Flickr)
In October of 2018, the humanoid robot Sophia (shown above) from the Hong Kong-based firm Hanson was granted an electronic visa by the government of Azerbaijan. The electronic nature of the visa was not incidental; this PR event was organized by the new e-services branch of the government of Azerbaijan to showcase its one-stop electronic services delivery agencies.
This sort of headline-drawing event is not new for Sophia. Most notably, Saudia Arabia made Sophia the first robot ever to be granted citizenship in 2017, and Sophia was once made to say “I will destroy all humans”.
As pointed out in a Wired piece “The agony of Sophia, the world’s first robot citizen condemned to a lifeless career in marketing”, Sophia has also been used to market a wide variety of things such as “tourism in Abu Dhabi, a smartphone, a Channel 4 show, and a credit card.” This intensive PR and multitudes of interviews have at times created the impression that Sophia represents the state of the art in robotics and AI, or that Sophia gets the human treatment because of being almost human; on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show Hanson went as far as saying that Sophia is “basically alive”.
Despite the large amount of coverage that every one of these events attracts, most reactions to Sophia tend to be critical and tend to include adjectives like “weird” and “creepy”.
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