David Hanson envisions a future in which AI-fueled bots develop to turn out to be genius super-intelligent devices that may assist resolve some of the most challenging issues of mankind. If only it was that easy as it seems.
The Walt Disney Imagineering’s former Texas-raised sculptor and Hanson Robotics, his Hong Kong-located startup, are mixing AI with expertise of southern China in toy electronics, design, and manufacturing to make social humanoid robots with faces developed to be appealing and lifelike enough to win belief from people who communicate with them.
At the age of 49, Hanson is perhaps best recognized as the maker of Sophia, a talking robot partially developed on Audrey Hepburn that he dubs as his magnum opus. Similar to a lively mannequin, she appears as much an item of his backdrop in theatrics as a prototype of enhanced technology. “Right now you are speaking with me, which is extremely Blade Runner. Isn’t it?” Sophia claimed at the time of a recent visit to headquarters of Hanson Robotics. The headquarter is located in a suburban science park at Hong Kong, which is its home since shortly after Hanson shifted in 2013 to the city.
“Do you ever see at the environment & yourself and ask, ‘Wow I’m living in a real world science fiction novel?”’ she enquired. “Is it strange to be speaking right now to a robot?” she continued. Hanson Robotics has made almost 12 copies of Sophia, who similar to any human is a work in full swing. A multinational group of engineers and scientists are working on her external look and the algorithms that allow her to blink, smile, and refine her communication and understanding.
Sophia has budging 3D-printed hands and, with the assistance of a robotics firm from South Korea, she is now transportable. Moving gradually on black boxy legs, Sophia made her moving debut last week in Las Vegas at the CES event.
Her skin is created of a nanotech substance that Hanson formulated and named it as “Frubber.” It is short for flesh-rubber, which has a bouncy texture similar to that of flesh. A 3D sensor in her upper body as well as cameras in her eyes assist her to perceive, while the processor that acts as her brain blends speech and facial recognition, speech synthesis, natural language processing, as well as a motion control network. Sophia appears engaging and friendly, in spite of the unnatural cadence and pauses in her language.