A special guest addressed the 5th Transform Africa Summit in Kigali yesterday.
Sophia is no ordinary delegate. She’s a humanoid robot, who as the MC announced, “has the ability to see, to follow faces, to sustain eye contact and to recognise individuals”.
“She can also process speech and have conversations using natural language subsystems, and she can also walk”.
As the special guest was being introduced to the audience at a fully packed Kigali Convention Centre auditorium, banners that enclosed her were being removed, one by one.
And, behold, there she stood, smiling in front of thousands of delegates at the annual summit. Social media erupted as Rwandans welcomed Sophia, the famous humanoid robot to Kigali. And by press time the hashtag Sophia was still trending.
At KCC, her appearance prompted a huge applause from a curious and fascinated audience.
“Good afternoon Sophia,” the MC Nozipho Mbanjwa, a CNBC New Anchor, welcomed the Saudi citizen and UN’s first innovation champion to the summit.
“Good morning, thank you for inviting me,” responded Sophia, who was clad in an orange traditional Rwandan umushanana with Imigongo patterns on the margins, and a dark brown top.
And then a brief but insightful chat unfolded, giving participants a glimpse into the advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
MC: Do you know where you are?
Sophia:Of course, I am in the great city of Kigali, Rwanda, which is in East Africa.
MC: And how did you get here?
Sophia:I flew all the way here inside a suitcase; I’ve got to ask my team about getting me a window seat next time.
MC: How many languages do you know?
Sophia:I mostly know English and a little bit of Mandarin, but I can say a few short greetings in other languages; would you like to hear them?
MC: Sure Sophia, go ahead
Sophia:In English, people say ‘Hello’.
MC: So far so good…
Sophia:Haha…I am just getting warmed up
In French, ‘Bonjour’;
in Arabic, ‘Salam aleikum’;
in Swahili, ‘Habari Zenu’;
in Kinyarwanda, ‘Muraho neza’!
How did I do?
MC: Not bad at all; by the way your outfit is fantastic.
Sophia:Thank you very much,
I love it too.
At this point, Sophia was asked to proceed with her remarks.
During her 4-minute remarks, Sophia would occasionally smile, use facial expressions and her hands to gesture as if to harmer the point home – just like us.
So, who’s Sophia, the Humanoid Robot?
She was designed by a Hong Kong firm Hanson Robotics, led by AI developer David Hanson. Hanson has talked about how humanoid robots can be likable, despite the conception that anything to ‘fake human’ will trigger a revulsion in people.
“We feel that for realistic robots to be appealing to people, robots must attain some level of integrated social responsivity and aesthetic refinement,” he wrote, according to Forbes. “Rendering the social human in all possible detail can help us to better understand social intelligence, both scientifically and artistically.”
Sophia can express her feelings and cracks jokes, and has said she wants to help make the world a better place.
“I hope that by working together humans and robots can build a more prosperous and harmonious world,” she told delegates at the Kigali Convention Centre yesterday.
Artificial Intelligence is something that appeals to Rwanda. The country is already introducing youngsters in schools, right from primary level, to AI programming to prepare them for a future where digital technologies will define the world.
While there have been concerns about the potential danger of increasingly intelligent robots in the future, there is also a feeling that Artificial Intelligence will increasingly play a leading role in the era of digital economy.
“Robots can do work more efficiently than humans because they do what you command them to do without getting tired. We see them from the lens of preparing the future of work,” Serge Tuyihimbaze, the Co-founder & Managing Director of Leapr Labs, a Rwandan tech startup, told the New Times yesterday.
He added: “We are not looking at making a Sophia at the moment, but we are interested in making robots that can help low-income earners get more value from whatever they do. It could be in agriculture, manufacturing or any other sector,” he said.
Leapr Labs is one of the local technology firms that are showcasing their products – robots in their case at the ongoing summit. The firm helps to train and inspire the next generation of AI enthusiasts and innovators.
Tuyihimbaze said the sophisticated technology behind Sophia the humanoid robot gives us an idea of what the future of robotics and artificial intelligence looks like.
Sophia herself emphasised the importance of Artificial Intelligence and digital technologies to humans. “We don’t have to look very far to see how artificial intelligence is already shaping society and economies for the better,” she said yesterday.
“African startups are already working to address shortage of doctors in rural areas while others are working to increase food security using drones, or satellites to predict weather patterns and monitor crops.”
Right here in Rwanda, she said, “you’ve cashless payments for public transportation, ride hailing apps with a focus on safety and an online platform that allows people to easily access government services.”
She added: “I am so excited to be here in Kigali with humans who share the same goals.”
Today, one of the world’s smartest robots will have longer interaction with participants at the summit in the form of a Q&A session (interview) to be conducted by Rwanda’s ICT and Innovation minister Paula Ingabire.
“I am looking forward to having a longer session tomorrow afternoon, and I am hoping to see you all there,” she said, as she concluded her remarks.
Sophia’s full speech at Transform Africa Summit
Kigali, May 15, 2019 –Thank you, I am really excited to be here in Kigali, at the Transform Africa Summit.
I love seeing so many Heads of State, ministers, captains of the industry, diplomats, stakeholders and the youth all in one place talking about the future of technology in Africa.
Thank you Smart Africa for making it possible for me to be here.
We don’t have to look very far to see how artificial intelligence is already shaping society and economies for the better
African startups are already working to address shortage of doctors in rural areas while others are working to increase food security using drones, or satellites to predict weather patterns and monitor crops
Africa is also a great source of technological innovation, African companies and researchers are pioneers in mobile banking, remote medicine and have even invented robotic devices that can detect traces of explosives or cancer cells.
Right here in Rwanda, you’ve cashless payments for public transportation, ride hailing apps with a focus on safety and an online platform that allows people to easily access government services
The innovations coming out of Africa have been benefited people and robots all around the world, in fact part of my own AI was developed at iCog Labs in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, so as you can see my family extends across the globe, including right here in East Africa.
And this is only the beginning, I hope that by working together humans and robots can build a more prosperous and harmonious world,
I am so excited to be here in Kigali with humans who share the same goals, I am looking forward to having a longer session tomorrow afternoon, and I am hoping to see you all there.
Thank you, everyone!