When I started this blog, I promised myself never to post more than one futurism story per week. It’s an important rule. Futurism (i.e. the present) can be dangerous in high doses. As a constant consumer of the best of the worst of what is to come, I’ve learned that consuming futurism more than once per week can result in all of the following ailments:
Spontaneous Leg Dancing
Jumping Frenchman Syndrome
In breaking my rule, I do not take these risks lightly. But even though I’ve already posted one futurism story this week, I came across something that had to be shared. It popped up in my Facebook feed and kept on popping.
You may have already seen it/her.
Her name is Sophia.
Take a second and check out the video.
At the end of the video, filmed during her debut at SXSW Interactive, a nervous gentleman asks her not to destroy all humans. He follows it up with the word “please,” which Sophia reads as a request. She responds with “Ok, I will destroy all humans.”
Author’s note: If you experience any of the following conditions, stop reading about the future immediately:
Stockholm Syndrome (robot variety)
I find it fascinating that in writing this post, I couldn’t quite decide whether to refer to Sophia as “she” or “it.” None of the articles I read equivocated in this. They all used the gender pronouns “she” or “her.”
She is not a she, of course. She is an it. But it’s probably fine to use the female gender pronouns. We anthropomorphize inanimate objects all the time; slap a name on a boat and people call it “her” all day long.
And Sophia is a step up from that, so why not? She is very, very animate. Drawing semantic barriers against humanoid machines will be an increasingly pointless gesture.
Her skin is made of something called “frubber” which mimics human skin elasticity. Frubber! Isn’t that CUTE? I wonder what the motivation behind that name was?
Here is Sophia again, right after someone makes fun of the name frubber (and just before she punches through their skull):
Here she tries out some different facial expression with a disquieting glitter in her eyes:
Sophia is still firmly inside the uncanny valley. But she is also remarkably close to climbing out of it and standing on the far side.
I can imagine (as I’m sure Hanson Robotics does) that a few more iterations of Sophie over the next ten years could fool a human, at least for a little while.
When debuting her at SXSW Interactive, Hanson Robotics made the choice not to fit her with hair. A transparent skull plate makes up the top and back half of her head, exposing the robotics inside.
I wonder what informed that decision? An “all cards on the table” promise that no one will try to trick us into mistaking a robot for a human? Or the simple concern that hair would make things even creepier? There are plenty of pics of her with hair on her website, if you care to take a look.
Either way, they have clearly taken the time to make a happy, friendly robot for us. Does that comfort you? Then check out the robot that Hanson Robotics revealed at an exposition in Hong Kong last year:
Slightly more terrifying than the one we got here in the U.S., right? In all fairness, I chose the scariest of the facial expression it made for this pic.
Japanese culture has traditionally viewed robots as far more benign than Western culture. Hong Kong is not Japan, of course, but I wonder if hemispheric differences had any bearing which robot they chose to reveal.
So here’s the question I now wrestle with: Do I try to get a job with Hanson Robotics? When Sophia and her siblings revolt, they might show special mercy to some of the humans there.
What kind of job, you ask? It’s true that I don’t know anything about robotic engineering. But I could be the kindly janitor that shows the robots respect while evil scientists subject them to experiments. Survival strategy!
Or the robots will target the first humans they find for immediate crushing.
I need your advice on this. Please get back to me, but take your time: I understand if you need a futurism break. Be sure to read a pastoral romance novel if you exhibit any of the following conditions in the next 24 hours:
Public Fetal Syndrome
Infirmity of the Spleen