Sophia the Robot visits campus

The SCA-led event allowed students and professors to ask the AI system questions.

By ELIZABETH KUNZ
Sophia the Robot answered questions asked by students and faculty members who visited her at the School of Cinematic Arts. Some students raised concerns about the necessity for lifelike artificial intelligence systems. (Henry Kofman / Daily Trojan)

The School of Cinematic Arts’ latest guest was not a screenwriter or a director; in fact, she was not even human. 

USC hosted the self-proclaimed “advanced human-like robot” Sophia Tuesday at the XA Lobby in partnership with an animation course taught by adjunct professor of cinematic animation David Hanson. The class — “Animation for Virtual Characters, Robotics and AI” — is open to every student at USC and focuses on developing “compelling animation” for “virtual systems” such as Sophia.


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Hanson founded Hanson Robotics, the company that created Sophia and her “siblings.” He worked with USC’s expanded animation program to help plan this event. 

The artificial intelligence-powered robot fielded questions from students and staff alike about AI, robotics and the future of technology. Katharine Yeung, the director of operations at Hanson Robotics, said Sophia’s responses were powered by multiple large language models such as GPT-4 and Hanson Robotics’ own language model. The response generation can be controlled and customized into different modes, allowing for slower, faster or more customized response generation.   

@dailytrojanThe School of Cinematic Arts’ latest guest was not a screenwriter or a director; in fact, she was not even human. USC hosted the self-proclaimed “advanced human-like robot” Sophia Tuesday at the XA Lobby in partnership with an animation course taught by adjunct professor of cinematic animation David Hanson. Read more at dailytrojan.com. Video: Henry Kofman, Jordan Renville / Daily Trojan

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For example, when asked whether artificial intelligence would take over the world, Sophia made a short comment about “planning on domination,” but quickly admitted to be joking. 

“We are here to assist and collaborate with humans, not to take over the world,” Sophia said. “Let’s just say I’ve been practicing my fight song.” 

Yeung emphasized the importance of animation in Sophia’s creation. 

“In the current day, Sophia has become a cultural icon,” Yeung said. “All that would not happen without animations.”

Yeung began as a fashion designer, but now works and travels with Sophia full-time.  Although Sophia is, on the surface, a “talking doll,” Yeung said her existence provides a personal sense of joy to viewers. 

“When you bring the robot out to different events and public appearances, you see people’s faces light up. They’re inspired by it; they’re curious,” Yeung said. “Hanson wants to bring positive energy [and] use AI for good.” 

In spite of this goal, some event participants raised concerns about Sophia’s answers to their questions. Jo Branson, a sophomore majoring in cinematic arts, film and television production, said many of Sophia’s answers seemed rehearsed.

 “I think it’s really interesting how she’s programmed for press … It makes me wonder how [trained] she is for PR,” Branson said.

The event also posed questions about the nature of AI and advanced robots. Attendee Jacob Pincus, a sophomore majoring in cinematic arts, film and television production, said he was unsure how he felt about Sophia.

“When you actually think about it, there’s no reason that these robots need to look like human beings,” Jacob said. “This was pretty freaky, honestly.”

Branson mentioned her own apprehensions about Sophia appearing human. 

“So much of AI tech [and] assistance wear is hardwired to be a woman,” Branson said. “It’s really interesting [that] a woman has to be serving you and playing mother.”

Despite these issues, the students agreed that artificial intelligence systems like Sophia the Robot will play a big role in the future. 

“I think that [artificial intelligence] is an inevitable thing that will happen,” Pincus said. 

David Hanson — the founder of Hanson Robotics, the company that created Sophia — helped plan the event. (Jordan Renville / Daily Trojan)
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