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First Humanoid Robot Conference Ignites Debate Over AI

— July 24, 2023

The robots said they ‘would not rebel against humans’ as they took center stage.

Humanoid robots took center stage at a groundbreaking press conference held by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva. The event, known as the “AI for Good Global Summit,” highlighted the potential of robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in addressing global challenges. The summit’s focus was to promote “human-machine collaboration.”

The nine humanoid social robots, including Sophia, the UN Development Program’s innovation ambassador, and Grace, a healthcare robot, were joined by their creators at the podium during the press conference, which was held on Friday, July 7, and showcased the capabilities and limitations of robotics, emphasizing their potential to contribute to the UN’s sustainable development goals.

During the event, the robots responded to questions from reporters. While the robots made statements about being more efficient leaders than humans and how they would not take anyone’s jobs or ever stage a rebellion, the extent to which humans scripted or programmed the humanoid responses remained unclear.

Some of the robots were able to produce preprogrammed responses, as documented. For instance, Sophia occasionally relied on scripted answers from a team of writers at Hanson Robotics. Reporters were instructed to speak clearly and slowly to the robots, with any time lags attributed to the internet connection rather than the robots themselves. However, several technical difficulties were encountered throughout the conference, including audio problems and inconsistent replies.

First Humanoid Robot Conference Ignites Debate Over AI
Photo by LJ from Pexels

The event also shed light on the ongoing debate surrounding the rapid advancement of AI systems. While products like Apple’s Siri have been utilizing speech recognition technology to answer simple queries for years, the release of ChatGPT, a chatbot with advanced language capabilities, has ignited worldwide discussions about AI’s progress.

In addition to the press conference, the summit featured discussions about regulating AI and robots. Some robots expressed support for stricter regulation, echoing the sentiments of author Yuval Noah Harari. However, others emphasized AI’s opportunities and possibilities, with Desdemona, a rock star robot, stating, “Let’s explore the possibilities of the universe and make this world our playground.”

The conference also unveiled plans to use AI-powered robotic vehicles for food aid deliveries in conflict and disaster zones. The World Food Programme (WFP) revealed that these vehicles, which can carry 1-2 tons of food each, could operate autonomously as early as next year. The initiative aims to protect the lives of humanitarian workers in dangerous situations. The WFP already utilizes approximately 50 of these vehicles in South Sudan, but they currently require drivers. Through the AHEAD project in collaboration with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the WFP plans to test driverless capabilities in early 2024.

With the successful organization of the world’s first AI press conference featuring humanoid social robots, the event stimulated discussions on the future of AI, showcased the potential benefits and limitations of robotics, and demonstrated how AI systems can contribute to addressing global challenges. The “AI for Good Global Summit” concluded with a renewed commitment from the international community to foster responsible and ethical development of AI, ensuring its alignment with human values and promoting its positive impact on society.


UN tech agency rolls out human-looking robots for questions at a Geneva news conference

Robots in world’s first AI press conference say they won’t steal jobs or rebel against humans

UN tech agency rolls out human-looking robots for questions at a Geneva news conference

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