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This article was published on January 25, 2021

Maker of Sophia the robot plans to sell droids to people seeking company during COVID

David Hanson wants to sell "thousands" of robots in 2021

Maker of Sophia the robot plans to sell droids to people seeking company during COVID Image by: World Economic Forum
Thomas Macaulay
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Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW Writer at Neural by TNW

The maker of Sophia the robot plans to sell droids to people craving company during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hanson Robotics aims to roll out four models — including Sophia — in the first half of 2021.

“Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like,” CEO David Hanson told Reuters. “That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.”

The Hong Kong-based firm aims to sell “thousands” of the droids this year. Hanson believes they could help fight the pandemic, which has accelerated demand for automation and robotics.

[Read: How this company leveraged AI to become the Netflix of Finland]

Sophia is arguably the planet’s most famous real-world robot, but it’s also attracted controversy.

Saudia Arabia notoriously granted citizenship to Sophia in 2017, giving the android more rights than millions of humans in the country.

Critics noted that Sophia wasn’t obliged to follow the same rules as real women in Saudia Arabia, and had received citizenship before many migrant workers who’d spend their whole lives in the kingdom.

Hanson has also been mocked for claiming that Sophia is “basically alive,” when it’s essentially just a chatbot in a robotic body.

In 2018, Facebook’s chief AI scientist, Yann LeCun, described Sophia as “complete bullshit” and slated the media for promoting the “Potemkin AI.”

Sophia’s official Twitter account responded by tweeting ironically: “I do not pretend to be who I am not.”

LeCun called the tweet “more BS from the (human) puppeteers behind Sophia” that was deceiving people into thinking the robot is intelligent:

It has no feeling, no opinions, and zero understanding of what it says. It’s not hurt. It’s a puppet. In case there is any doubt, let me be totally clear: this tweet was typed by a person who has read my post. No AI whatsoever was involved.

The humanoid could nonetheless provide some animatronic company to people suffering through lockdowns and restricted human interactions.

But robosexuals should take note: Sophia isn’t programmed to perform sex acts.

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