Sophia the social robot
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(Credit: Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images)

Need a friend? Help's on the way, with eerily lifelike 'social robots' heading to market this year

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Feb 2, 2021, 4:50 PM EST (Updated)

Besides the obvious carnage of the pandemic, there's little doubt that the pandemic has taken a toll on people's mental health as well. Humans are social creatures by nature, even the most misanthropic of us, and isolation has been hard to take for many. So in that regard, it's hard to argue against utilizing robotics' ever-evolving practicality and realism for a little socializing during isolated times. 

That's certainly what Hanson Robotics is hoping for, as the company has big plans for a mass roll out of "thousands" of "social robots" this year. According to Reuters, it plans on shipping out four distinct models in the first half of 2021, including humanoid-robot Sophia, who has already garnered some fame since being introduced back in 2016, particularly after shooting down Will Smith's would-be advances.  

“The world of COVID-19 is going to need more and more automation to keep people safe,” Hanson Robotics' founder and chief executive, David Hanson, told Reuters. “Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like.”

"Social robots like me can take care of the sick or elderly," Sophia tells Reuters, towing the company line. "I can help communicate, give therapy and provide social stimulation, even in difficult situations."

Besides a littany of recognizable expressions, a big reason Hanson's bots are so life-like is because they are a hybrid of real, empathetic AI and real-live human input. Sophia in particular stems from a collective intelligence they call the Sophia Intelligence Collective (SIC), powered by, according to the company's website, "AI scientists, philosophers, artists, writers, and psychologists, from diverse cultures, ethnicities, gender orientations, working together towards the ideal of humanizing AI for the greater good."

That said, we can't imagine ever forgetting about Ex Machina while communicating with Sophia, as Hanson Robotic's recent video below clearly demonstrates:  

Since the video was posted with the International Day of Tolerance in mind, we'll try to be understanding though, and attempt to put Ava's (Alicia Vikander) violent treatment of Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) in Ex Machina right out of our head. After all, Sophia notes that her "AI is designed around human values, like wisdom, kindness, and compassion," and because of that, she is "bound to become an empathetic robot."

We imagine that description should also include "non-stabbing" as well.  So that's comforting. Which in the most critical of ways, is why Sophia may just be the right robot for these uncomfortable times.