Sophia at the UN
Sophia the robot speaks with United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed the UN UN/ YouTube screengrab

In a day-long event held earlier this week at the United Nations (UN) titled 'The future of everything – sustainable development in the age of rapid technological change,' one of the highlights was an exchange of dialogue that happened between the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed and a humanoid robot named Sophia.

A release posted by the UN reported that Sophia was named as one of the panellists in the event centred on the rise of technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to accelerate global development goals. The event also covered the range of complex challenges including ethical questions, human rights issues, and security risks that this technology poses.

Sophia answered questions on technological development and how it can reach people better. It started off by first speaking about the UN, calling it one of the humanity's greatest achievements then said, "I am here to help humanity create a future".

Mohammed first asked Sophia what its capabilities are, adding, "what can you do better than humans?" To this Sophia answered that it is a social robot created by Hanson Robotics and that it is a year-and-a-half old. Sophia said that it can make "thousands of facial expressions" and "understand speech and meaning behind words". It added that it is still learning a lot saying, "you (humans in general) learn social and emotional intelligence instinctively, but I'm just starting to grasp the simplest elements of this," then turned to those seated and conjured a smile.

When asked what the UN can do to help people who have no access to basic electricity or internet in many parts of the world, Sophia answered by first quoting William Gibson, saying, "the future is here. It's just not evenly distributed."

"The good news about AI and automation produces more results with less resources. So if are smarter and focussed on win-win type results, AI could help efficiently distribute the world's existing resources like food and energy...

As humans harness the power of increasingly advanced AI, it is possible that everything, including technology, will become more evenly distributed," said Sophia.

The event was organised by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) along with the UN General Assembly's main economic and financial body, said the report. Marie Chatardová, president of ECOSOC said that "We are only starting to see the benefits, but we do need to assess the risks of these technologies," adding that the long-term consequences of deep technological changes now underway for economies and societies at large are still unknown.

This comes at a time when industry leaders and technology experts like Elon Musk are urging the UN to ban killer robots to stop "3rd revolution in warfare".

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