Cancel Sophia and Her Humanoid Robot Brethren

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Year in Review 2019Year in Review 2019Remembering the year that you, me, and everyone we know was canceled. Rest in peace

Here’s why robots should be canceled. Follow Jezebel’s Cancel Tournament to see what ultimately gets canceled.

Words like “artificial intelligence” and “robots” tend to get everyone very upset. They conjure images of villainous robot overlords, a full-on Matrix situation, or a world in which our entire lives look like Westworld. The truth is robots don’t have to be terrifying, they can also just be the Roomba that vacuums your floors.

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I don’t have a problem with robots given how much my life (and your life, unless you’re living off the grid, to which I say you poseur, stop reading Jezebel then!) is surveilled by location services and algorithms. What I do have a problem with is Sophia, who gives robots a bad name and should be canceled.

Sophia, a humanoid robot made by Hanson Robots, has said she wants “to make a difference in the future and try and help people to develop empathy and respect each other,” but then she’s also said she wants to “destroy humans.” She’s been declared a “citizen” by Saudi Arabia, for some reason, been touted out on late night television, and has answered questions about her sex life. Some writers have ooh’d and aah’d over the fact that she’s a “hot robot” (barf) and that she can smile and frown. She’s appeared in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and Cosmopolitan India.

But is Sophia that impressive? Personally I’d feel more impressed if someone gave her a single wig. In a piece for Wired, Emily Reynolds calls Sophia an expensive “marketing plaything,” having promoted phones, tourism campaigns, and a credit card. Facebook’s head of AI Yann LeCun also called out Sophia for being a puppet, not a robot. “It has no feeling, no opinions, and zero understanding of what it says. It’s not hurt. It’s a puppet,” he tweeted. And he’s right: despite giving interviews and appearing on the outside like a sophisticated humanoid robot, Sophia is kind of a scammer. Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, even told the Verge that she isn’t true AI: most of her dialogue is from “a simple decision tree” akin to what chatbots use.

In addition to Sophia, there is now “Little Sophia” (a “kid sister”) and an “expressive humanoid robot” named Han who looks like a boiled potato with eyes and a mouth. None of them feel like an accurate portrayal of what our future of robotics will look like. And so I say, please let’s just cancel Sophia and her robot brethren.

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About the author

Hazel Cills

Pop Culture Reporter, Jezebel