Bringing AI to life

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Communications Division, WIPO

How did you get into robotics?

I have always been drawn to ask “what if?” and to think about all the ideas that spin out from that. All science starts as philosophy and all technology starts as a dream plus reason. Invention and innovation are about making the unknown known. Ultimately, the development of artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t just powered by technology, but by dreams and discovery.

My path has led me to many interesting disciplines across the arts, sciences, and technology. The interplay of these interests prompted me to start creating humanoid robots as a new artistic medium. I find this very interesting.

I studied a bit of computer science while programming robots, built my first humanoid robot in the early 1990s, and then completed an undergraduate degree in film/animation/video focused on AI-based narrative. I worked as a professional sculptor for a while and then moved into robotics development at Disney Imagineering. After that, I joined a mixed-disciplinary PhD program, which further fueled my interest in robotics.

Can you tell us about Sophia?

Sophia is our most advanced character robot. She has become quite a cultural icon with a global following. She leads our greater mission to make an impact on humanity through the development of intelligent, empathetic robots. We use her in a variety of R&D and service robotics activities, as well as in support of our community outreach and artistic efforts at Hanson Robotics.

Sophia incorporates our most advanced AI software. It allows her to serve as a bold R&D platform and provides her with rudimentary understanding when she holds natural conversations, sees and responds to facial expressions, and adapts to and learns from those interactions. Also, it provides tools for developing her with the character and interactions for specific applications. Creating Sophia’s face, one of the human body’s most complex organs, was a very big challenge, both in terms of hardware engineering and design. Once we master the code to create a full spectrum of nuanced facial expressions, we have a very powerful means of communicating. Most human messaging is visual, unconscious, and informal. Our aim is to unlock and formalize that nonverbal language using AI, and thereby empower machines with better understanding of human emotions. Sophia is a huge step forward in realizing the dream of creating friendly machines that care for humans.

It took around eight years to develop Sophia’s skin and the software and mechanics for her to make realistic facial expressions. Her face now simulates all the major facial muscles.

While Sophia can make eye contact, making her intelligently responsive and interactive to create an empathetic connection with humans is a complex, ongoing challenge.

Sophia now has great hands and arms, which we built, with some narrow...

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