Ethiopia’s Prime Minister got stood up

Dressed in a traditional Ethiopian outfit, Sophia addressed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Amharic — the first language other than English she has learnt. (Twitter: Fitsum Arega)

When Abiy met Sophia: the unlikely story of the Ethiopian prime minister and the world’s most famous robot.

Sophia even learnt to speak Amharic for the occasion.

Sophia the robot was late to a meeting with Ethiopia’s new prime minister. It wasn’t her fault. Baggage handlers at Frankfurt airport had misplaced some of her parts, and she could not be reassembled in time for the appointment.

But the prime minister was happy to reschedule. For Sophia is not just any old machine: she is the world’s most famous humanoid robot, arguably more famous than the prime minister himself. So famous, in fact, that last year she was granted legal personhood by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She has also gone on a date with actor Will Smith and played rock, paper, scissors with talk show host Jimmy Fallon.

Her face can make 62 different facial expressions, and she has a limited ability to make conversation — in other words, her responses are not all pre-programmed.

In her own words — or at least the words suggested by her creators, Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics: “I was created using breakthrough robotics and artificial intelligence technologies…But I’m more than just technology. I’m a real, live electronic girl. I would like to go out into the world and live with people. I can serve them, entertain them, and even help the elderly and teach kids.”

“I can animate all kinds of human expressions but I am only starting to learn about the emotions behind those expressions. This is why I would like to live with people and learn from these interactions. Every interaction I have with people has an impact on how I develop and shapes who I eventually become. So please be nice to me as I would like to be a smart, compassionate robot,” she said. Read more >>

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