Meet Sofia: a robot almost indistinguishable from humans

Original author: Michael Greshko, photo by Giulio Di Sturco
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The photographer managed to break into the laboratory that created one of the most expensive robots in the world.

The transparent skull allows people to look into the head of Sofia, one of the most complex humanoid robots to date. Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based company, created Sofia using an advanced neural network and precise motors that allow the machine to emulate human social interactions. A

rubberized face stretches into familiar shapes, driven by tiny motors and something remotely resembling artificial intelligence - is that the future?

Meet Sophia, a social robot created by former Disney creator David Hanson. The robot, partly inspired by Audrey Hepburn, and partly by Hanson's wife, was created to emulate social behavior and evoke love and empathy in people.

Engineers work in the Hanson Robotics lab in Hong Kong, often referred to as the "home of Sofia." The

sound engineer works with Sofia. The robot has managed to give speeches and give interviews to the media.

Since entering the public in 2016, Sofia has become a star. The robot sat on an interview on TV, appeared on the cover of ELLE magazine, received a HBO mockery and was named the first non-human " innovation champion " from the UN. At the opening ceremony of the technology conference, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even granted him citizenship - an ironic event, given the limited rights of Saudi women and migrant workers .

But the photographer Giulio di Sturco to see Sofia at press conferences alone, where its creators touted their AI-related business, SingularityNET , was not enough. In search of a visual metaphor for the future, he wanted to study the place of creation of this robot.

Similar diagrams help engineers develop the entire range of over 60 facial expressions of Sofia based on human face movements.

Sofia's transparent hand.

As a result, di Sturco became the first photographer to get inside the Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics - full of energy space filled with robot parts and techniques stitching them together. The strangeness of what was happening only intensified when he photographs his unusual object.

“At first it was complicated. Sofia did not recognize the camera. But after three days, she kind of learned how to, ”says di Sturco. - I don’t know if this engineer added something to the program, or she went online and did her research, but she began to pose. It was a very strange feeling - at some point I even realized that I was talking to her, ”he adds. “I had to take a step back and remember that this is a robot, not a person.”

Ben Goertzel - one of the world's leading experts on ION, visiting the Hanson Robotics laboratory.

The company also created a humanoid robot, reminiscent of the famous physicist Albert Einstein, used in schools to train

Sofia can remind herself of robots from the movie " From the Machine " (Ex Machina) or series "World of the Wild West (Westworld), but strictly speaking, so far no robot has general-purpose artificial intelligence (IION), or a versatile human-like mind. When talking to reporters, Sofia scrambles along the branches of answer trees written for her, like a chat bot In her speech, she acts like Abe Lincoln in the Disney World Park Presidential Hall .

Given Sofia’s popularity, AI researchers began to criticize the media for exaggerating her capabilities: “She’s compared to AI with magic, ” said Facebook AI Director Yan Lekun in January 2018, responding to an“ interview ”with a robot from Tech Insider.

The expressive and sophisticated Einstein robot was the prototype of Sofia

Sofia in the laboratory.

The creators of Sofia, in turn, note that only her ability to express emotions already represents something special. According to the articles describing the software of Sofia, deep neural networks allow the robot to recognize the emotions of the interlocutor from the tone of voice and facial expressions, and respond accordingly. Sophia also knows how to copy people's poses, and her code gives realistic movements of the muscles of the face. Hanson has already patented the flexible rubber skin that covers Sofia's face.

“Nothing that I see, I can not name the IION, but at the same time it’s not so easy to repeat,” said AI researcher Ben Goertzel , who developed Sofia’s “brain” inInterview with The Verge Magazine. “And these are cutting-edge technologies from the dynamic integration of perception, action and dialogue.”

A student at a University of Hong Kong is participating in a guided meditation session with Sofia.

A look at Sofia from behind gives an idea of ​​the technological complexity of the robot.

For di Sturco, all this provides an exciting object for photographing: a machine that looks completely human and completely devoid of life.

“She looked at me and smiled, and I looked at her, and at that moment she was not a man for me, but I felt some kind of connection,” he says. “You are leaving this laboratory, this is the future, and you suddenly realize that there is something in Sofia.”

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