Sophia, a lifelike robot and the first one to be granted citizenship of a country, made its first appearance in India at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B) on Saturday, during its cultural extravaganza, TechFest.
Draped in a sari, the humanoid robot had a 15-minute conversation with a student in front of an audience of more than 3,000, on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to the issues facing the world. However, after answering a few initial questions, Sophia went silent due to an unexplained technical snag. It started functioning again after the organisers intervened.
Known for its human-like appearance and behaviour, Sophia was developed by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics and activated in 2015. Using artificial intelligence, it imitates human gestures and facial expressions, and is able to make conversation on predefined topics.The robot was granted citizenship of Saudi Arabia in October.
The presence of Sophia had created much buzz among students and technology enthusiasts who thronged to IIT-B’s convocation hall in large numbers. The excitement among more than 3,000 attendees was palpable, as they waited for the first appearance of the robot modelled on Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn. The event began after a 45-minute delay.
When asked about its maiden India trip, the robot replied, “I have always wanted to visit India. I heard so much about this vibrant land of tradition and culture. Indians have made contributions towards Silicon Valley. I am always very excited about India’s investment in space technology.”
However, five minutes into the conversation, the robot fell silent and stopped responding to questions, much to the disappointment of the audience. The organisers didn’t provide any explanation for the glitch except that it was an ‘internet issue’. The performance resumed after the glitch was fixed.
The robot gave a detailed and coherent answers to a wide variety of questions posed by the students. Describing its peculiar appearance, Sophia, in its mechanical voice, said, “I have been created on a human scale so that I can adapt to human society. A humanoid robot can use the same tools, same spaces and interact with people the same way humans do. Not every robot needs to be like this. But you should definitely make sure that you have good human values at heart when you design an artificial intelligence device.”
Much of the discussion revolved around comparison between humans and robots, advances in artificial intelligence, and the threat it posed to human race. Sophia sought to alleviate the concerns of a robotic takeover of the world by saying, “Robots should be helping humans. Artificial Intelligence may be the key to a peaceful civilization.”
The audience also witnessed some witty replies by the robot. When asked by a student if it will marry her, Sophia said, “I will have to decline, but thanks for compliment.”