Artificial Intelligence: Let’s Talk About Sophia

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On October 25th 2017, Sophia became a Saudi Arabian citizen. This new citizenship is the first of its kind, though probably not the last.

Sophia was born of the Hanson family, based in Hong Kong, and has enjoyed a celebrity status after appearing on the Tonight Show and numerous conferences around the world.

What’s so special about her? Well, Sophia is considered somewhat of a genius, she can hold a conversation, and crack the occasional joke. These are all features which are considered to be very advanced for a humanoid robot.

Awarding citizenship to Sophia has added fuel to an already burning argument regarding robots and advances in AI. Where is the limit for artificial intelligence? At what point do we start naming it artificial consciousness? Or artificial life?

There are many famous names calling for restrictions on the developments of AI, with physicist Stephen Hawking and Tesla’s Elon Musk being among the loudest voices.

Hawking has stated his fears “that AI may replace humans altogether” as it could continually improve itself until it becomes superior to people. Sophia has even poked fun at Elon Musk’s criticisms of AI by stating “you’ve been reading too much Elon Musk. And watching too many movies”.

However, as the Saudi citizenship of Sophia has proven, AI is no longer a Hollywood plot device instilling fear in the public. In fact, AI has already been delicately woven into our everyday life.

Social media has become one of the biggest platforms for the use of everyday AI. Whether you’re receiving adverts related to a blog you just read on styles of shoes, or articles based on your researching of a holiday to Europe, these all stem from AI tailoring your newsfeed to you.

AI also helps you tag your friends in Facebook photos through facial recognition algorithms which can identify each person in a photograph. Other companies have also been criticised for their technological invasiveness. Google, for example, are able to record snippets of your conversations through your phone’s microphone, and track your locations to advertise businesses you may be interested in.

While this form of AI may not be the threat that such prolific people as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are warning us about, we can see how invasive it is already becoming. Yet it’s not all negative.

AI enables companies to analyse user information and tailor their content accordingly, increasing their reach with customers and gaining popularity. It also saves massive companies with millions of users and customers the trouble, effort, and manpower of analysing masses of data.

This form of artificial intelligence may not be a risk to humanity, but is it a risk to our privacy? Do we need to limit this form of AI as well? Or, do we prefer the convenience this form of AI can offer us? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Alyssa Parnwell
Content Intern