Created by the Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, the AI humanoid, Sophia, has been making a worldwide tour courtesy its creators and has made an unexpected stop to the Caucasus this week. This stop meant that the first AI-powered Robot was granted the world’s first ever visa issued to a robot, thanks to the smart technology this process took just two minutes.
Hanson Robotics’ latest and most advanced robot Sophia is a tech cultural icon. Sophia was activated on February 14, 2016, and became a media personality, featuring on major media covers and news around the world, igniting people’s interest all across the world and even gracing the cover of one of the top fashion magazines like Stylist and Cosmopolitan India.
Sophia, a citizen of Saudi Arabia is a popular speaker in business conclaves showing her knowledge potential across many industries. She has met honchos and key decision makers in insurance, auto manufacturing, property development, media, banking, and entertainment. Sophia has also appeared onstage as a panel member and presenter in international conferences, and spoken how robotics and artificial intelligence are becoming an imperative part of people’s lives. The humanoid’s reputation extends beyond business and the global social arena as she was named the world’s first UN Innovation Champion by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and holds an official role in working with UNDP promoting sustainable development and safeguarding human rights and equality.
Sophia’s overseas visit was organized by the UN public service award winner Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network (ASAN) xidmet, a government agency in Azerbaijan. This agency is on the task to reduce the bureaucracy by creating one-stop centres to deliver public services. Recently this agency took over all the country’s e-government initiatives which are no mean feat as in Azerbaijani, the word ASAN means easy. To leverage this electronic kinship with the humanoid Sophia with an aim to deliver e-government services, ASAN has issued an electronic visa upon her arrival at the Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Azerbaijan.
An ASAN service centre provides a plethora of services, where a person can register death, marriage, birth or divorce, renew a driver’s license, line up medical or translation services, obtain a passport, obtain a free legal consultation, and register a business and many more. Later when Hanson Robotics was enquired whether Sophia’s next stop in the global tour could be Azerbaijan, ASAN jumped at the opportunity.
The agency’s chairperson, Ulvi Mehdiyev said, Sophia is a perfect fit for ASAN as electronics including the hardware and software makes her work in the same way as the services of ASAN are delivered electronically. As Travis Scott, a South African engineer and a member of the Good Technology Collective says, “It’s unusual for a government agency to take the lead in delivering electronic services, but it is vital for governments to keep ahead of the curve”. The Good Technology Collective is a European think tank with a goal to ensure that artificial intelligence is a positive force for mankind and is not perceived as a threat.
Visa to Humanoid and International Publicity
Issuing a visa to a humanoid has garnered international publicity and additionally, ASAN decided to go a step ahead and asked Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev for a chat with Sophia when the president presided over the opening of the new ASAN complex.
Sophia the humanoid shared several messages and responded to what the president was saying. The humanoid’s structural framework includes a camera that finds visual cues such as facial expressions while finalizing when to keep a conversation moving. The humanoid was given an Audrey Hepburn look by the Hanson Robotics for this leg of the trip. Sophia started the conversation with the president by telling him how she had obtained an ASAN visa at the Baku airport and marveled the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, Baku’s architecture.
Sophia praised the president Aliyev for supporting the ASAN initiative; adding “Your visit here [at the ASAN complex dedication] underscores the special attention you are giving to e-governance and the innovation ecosystem.”
Sophia’s visit mainly underscored two things; first being the ASAN agency taking the assistance of the cyber and electronic worlds to make the citizen’s lives better, and second being, the move shows Hanson Robotics capable of making a humanoid whose artificial intelligence is not restricted to learning and undertaking routine tasks like cleaning instead also have more robust conversations with the human mind.