This is Pastor Tim’s article which appeared in the Evening Leader on Monday, Feb 1 2021.
Well, I am not going to sleep tonight. Clicking down my Google newsfeed looking for something to write about, I read the most terrifying article, and to make matters worse, it came with video as well. Just when we all thought the most horrible year imaginable was in the past, we open 2021 with Hong Kong announcing that they are about to start mass producing a robot known as Sophia. This humanoid robot’s main task is to provide socialization to people who are shut-in due to COVID. Get on YouTube and check out this robot in action. It will haunt your dreams. If I had a choice between being lonely or being locked in with Sophia, I would beg for solitary confinement.
My first reaction is to ask, “Have any of the people who developed this Artificial Intelligence ever watched a movie?” From the Terminator who wanted to kill Sarah Conner to Ultron who wanted to kill the Avengers, Artificial Intelligence has never ever gone well. I think they should have called this robot SkyNet and just got it over with.
While I have MANY questions about the application of this robot, I do have one concern. Are we absolutely sure it is a good idea to create something to take the place of human interaction? I am serious, is there anything good that can come from it? What if I decide I don’t like people and I want to be a hermit? Can I order a Sophia and have conversations with it? I could just record my own voice on the phone and play it back as I talk to it. Honestly, is that any different? My guess is that Sophia is programed to know what you like to hear and as it figures you out more, it will say what you want.
That isn’t human interaction and quite frankly, aside from creepy, it is also boring! Sophia isn’t programmed to think or have opinions, she is only designed to respond. You might as well talk to your reflection in the mirror. The most terrifying part of this whole thing is that consumers of these Sophias will become accustomed to a very agreeable “person.” Then, when they go back to interacting with real people, who will not always respond affirmably, they will not be equipped to handle it.
I have no doubt that the name of this device was chosen on purpose. Sophia comes from the Greek word for Wisdom. I guess this device will sound pretty darn intelligent when it figures you out and only tells you stuff you agree with. In its defense, I have to admit that people do sound more right when they agree with me…I’m just not sure I want to buy my fake friend to just make me feel super smart all the time.
These robots dispatched in the area around Wuhan, the place where the Coronavirus was first detected, to help identify people who were in social settings without wearing masks. Robot mask enforcers. What else can we have them enforce? Hate speech, curfew violations, failure to recycle waste? This could be a long way beyond what we think it will do.
The bottom line is, Sophia might be great at minor tasks and other dangerous situations that we wouldn’t send a person in to do. However, to create a device that simulates human interaction doesn’t seem like a very good idea, nor is it a solution to any challenge we face today. You are better off talking on the phone than having a conversation with a device that has no soul. The danger of the application of this technology in this way has risks I am not comfortable with.
I couldn’t find a retail price on these Sophia devices, but if they become available in the United States, which is probably inevitable, I want you to give some real thought before you purchase one. Yes, they may be able to entertain your kids and help you with tasks around the house like Rosie from the Jetsons, but this doesn’t seem like a step forward for a society that is already so deeply divided.