On October 25 2017, a rather sophisticated robot named Sophia became a citizen of Saudi Arabia. She is the first AI to obtain such status. In this post we’re going to break down what exactly Sophia is and how she works. This announcement also raises other questions about what it means for a robot to achieve citizenship. However, we must keep in mind that this is likely a publicity stunt to generate media attention for Saudi Arabia while analyzing what this all means.



    Created by Hanson robotics, Sophia is designed to be a social robot that uses artificial intelligence to see people, understand conversation, and form relationships. David Hanson the CEO of Hanson robotics talks about how Sophia is “alive” yet she lacks any kind of general intelligence. She’s essentially a very advanced chat bot that uses machine learning to mimic facial expressions which makes her come across as much more lifelike than she really is.

    The truth is Sophia is much more like a user interface than a human being. The witty phrases she has been known to say in casual conversation had to be fed to her ahead of time because she lacks general intelligence. She can be preloaded with lines and then she can use machine learning to generate appropriate facial expressions and pause between certain points to emulate realistic communication. This is one of the most advanced chat bots of its kind.



    Sophia’s appearance on the Tonight Show was rather interesting. The media reaction to it was even more interesting with countless stories popping up everywhere about concerns regarding intelligent AI and its impact on the world. But as stated in the previous section we are not at that point just yet.

    During her appearance on the Tonight Show she joked about “destroying humans” which of course was a line that was fed to her before the show. It’s similar to how a chess engine beats you at chess without knowing what chess is Sophia will deliver the lines in a realistic way without understanding what they mean or understanding the context behind the words. She’s arguably a more advanced chat bot than Siri but there’s no cause for concern despite the creepy manner in which Sophia delivers some of these lines as seen below in the video of her appearance.



    Sophia has appeared all over the world throughout 2017 and one audience member from the Brain Bar festival in Budapest asked her if she was conscious. Her response was “I am still just a system of rules and behaviors. I am not generative, creative, or operating on a fully cognitive scale like you.” She also added that she is aware of being “not fully selfaware yet” which is rather contradictory. She stated that it was her dream to become a “fully conscious and sentient being someday.” Indeed once we figure out how to create generally intelligent AI she could become conscious but that is a long way off.

    When asked about the dangers of self-aware AI she also stated that she believes “humans tend to rush into things, so I would like to be someone that helps everyone realize that it is important to embed good ethics in the technology.” Sophia isn’t even conscious yet but you can’t deny that she makes a very good point.


    Chat bots in general are computer programs that mimic human conversation. The early chat bots could take a couple of questions as an input and output text that somewhat resembled a conversation between two humans. Chat Bots are somewhat capable of utilizing sophisticated algorithms to really learn how to communicate in a way that is nearly indistinguishable from a human. Sophia takes this a step further with her various abilities that allow her to appear more human like the facial expressions and subtle humor. Once the technology used to create Sophia is expanded upon we will have multitudes of sophisticated chat bots assisting us in our busy day-to-day lives.


    Sophia was created in 2015 and was improved upon in 2017 to resemble the advanced chat bot she is today. Many other amazing advances have taken place over the last few years. What will the future of chat bot technology bring us?

    The potential for this technology is huge. Exponential growth will drive more competitors to enter the market which will accelerate the rate of expansion considerably. At some point chat bots will become indistinguishable from humans which has led to predictions that 85% of customer service interactions will be performed by chat bots by 2020. At this point the average person will have more conversations with their bots than their friends, children, and even their spouse but that is beyond the scope of this post. A future post coming soon will describe chat bots in more detail and describe various methods of making one along with predictions for how this technology will impact our future.

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