WHEN SOPHIA THE ROBOT first switched on, the world couldn’t get enough. It had a cheery personality, it joked with late-night hosts, it had facial expressions that echoed our own. Here it was, finally — a robot plucked straight out of science fiction, the closest thing to true artificial intelligence that we had ever seen.
There’s no doubt that Sophia is an impressive piece of engineering. Parents-slash-collaborating-tech-companies Hanson Robotics and SingularityNET equipped Sophia with sophisticated neural networks that give Sophia the ability to learn from people and to detect and mirror emotional responses, which makes it seem like the robot has a personality. It didn’t take much to convince people of Sophia’s apparent humanity — many of Futurism’s own articles refer to the robot as “her.” Piers Morgan even decided to try his luck for a date and/or sexually harass the robot, depending on how you want to look at it.
“Oh yeah, she is basically alive,” Hanson Robotics CEO David Hanson said of Sophia during a 2017 appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show. And while Hanson Robotics never officially claimed that Sophia contained artificial general intelligence — the comprehensive, life-like AI that we see in science fiction — the adoring and uncritical press that followed all those public appearances only helped the company grow.
But as Sophia became more popular and people took a closer look, cracks emerged. It became harder to believe that Sophia was the all-encompassing artificial intelligence that we all wanted it to be. Over time, articles that might have once oohed and ahhed about Sophia’s conversational skills became more focused on the fact that they were partially scripted in advance.