Sophia the Robot at Web Summit 2017

Quick quiz: what do you visualize when you hear the word robot? Some machine in human form, behaving like a human? Or perhaps one of the massive, spiderlike machines that assemble complex products ranging from automobiles to computers?

In reality, modern robotics follows both paths. However, in spite of the progress with humanlike robots, most business applications of the technology focus on machine forms that are specific to the task at hand, whether it be a Mars Rover or a medical robot assisting a surgeon.

Sophia the Robot at Web Summit 2017

Sophia the Robot at Web Summit 2017

There are exceptions to this rule, however: companies who focus on making robots as humanlike as possible, with the eventual goal of behavior so realistic it can actually fool people into thinking the machine is fully human.

To achieve such levels of verisimilitude, such robots must have sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) built in. For example, take Sophia, the creation of Hanson Robotics that Saudi Arabia recently granted citizenship to, in a lavish publicity stunt.

Sophia has the ability to carry on limited conversations, requiring AI-driven natural language processing. ‘She’ can also recognize faces and respond to interactions emotionally, both via tone of voice as well as through a complex set of facial expressions – all technologies that depend upon AI.

In many ways, however, Sophia is less about AI and more about theatrics. ‘Her’ creators have combined AI, robotics, and elements of show business to prove that a fake person can be sufficiently realistic to be appealing rather than repulsive.

What they have not accomplished – and in fact, aren’t attempting to accomplish – is to create AI that can simulate human behavior in a way that solves true business problems.

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Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, Maana is an Intellyx customer. None of the other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers. Image credit: Stephen McCarthy/Web Summit.

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