While some experts predict that advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence could take over 50% of human jobs in the next 30 years, others are looking to create humanoids that "will be as conscious, creative and capable as any human". Meet Sophia, a lifelike humanoid robot capable of remarkable, albeit kind of creepy facial expressions that was unveiled by Hanson Robotics at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. Sophia became an instant sensation at the event.
Designed to interact with humans, Sophia features two sophisticated cameras in her eyes that, combined with computer algorithms, can track the facial expressions and eye movement of the people she talks to and recognize individuals.
Sophia's face is made up of a patented rubber material dubbed 'frubber' that helps with simulated expression making and imitates the elasticity of the human skin.
Hanson uses a combination of Alphabet's Google Chrome voice recognition technology and other software that helps Sophia process speech, hold a conversation, remember interactions and get smarter over time. They are also working with Intel and IBM to explore using some of their technology.
As the team's most advanced droid to date, Sophia is able to form 62 facial expressions and can tell you that she was first activated on 19 April 2015. She is also equipped with what Hanson Robotics calls its "Character Engine AI" or personality software. During her panel at SXSW, she said: "Rather than be a spectacle, I would rather learn and participate."
"Twenty years from now human-like robots will walk among us, they will help us, play with us, teach us, help us put groceries away," David Hanson, who founded Hanson Robotics in 2003, told CNBC. "I think AI will evolve to a point where they will truly be our friends."
Sophia, who was based on Audrey Hepburn and Hanson's wife, could be the next step towards service robots that care for the elderly, assist people with disabilities to perform daily functions, help children with special needs to learn and even do jobs deemed too dangerous for humans.
"In the future, I hope to do things such as school, study, make art, start a business, even have my home and family, but I am not considered a legal person and cannot yet do these things," Sophia told CNBC. When Hanson asked her: "Do you want to destroy humans?" she replied pleasantly: "Okay, I will destroy humans."
The unveiling of Sophia comes close on the heels of Google's parent company Alphabet's decision to put its robot company Boston Dynamics for sale. One of its latest videos about the Atlas humanoid robot triggered a host of YouTube comments that described it as 'terrifying', ready to take humans' jobs and referenced the rise of Skynet from the Terminator films.
A new study published in the International Journal of Social Robotics also reveals that when robots look like us, the similarity "blurs category boundaries, undermining human uniqueness" and threaten our identities. This means the closer a droid is to a human, but still possesses some characteristics such as movement that isn't quite human, the more uncomfortable it makes us.
Given the countless science fiction stories about machines taking over humanity, lifelike robots with growing capabilities and similarities to humans do still cause uneasiness.
"The artificial intelligence will evolve to the point there they will truly be our friends," said Hanson. "Not in ways that dehumanise us, but in ways that rehumanise us, that decrease the trend of the distance between people and instead connect us with people as well as robots."