The Robot Who Wants to Destroy Humanity Isn’t So Good at Sentences Yet

Sophia netted a lot of press coverage for her Uncanny Valley face and somewhat coherent threat to destroy mankind. She’s currently too busy recalibrating to kill us all.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Sophia the robot is supposed to be one of the most advanced artificially intelligent beings on the planet. She is the first robot to receive citizenship from a country, Saudi Arabia, and she made headlines last year when she claimed that she wanted to "destroy all humans."

But when I meet Sophia early in the morning at the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas during this year's CES, she could barely speak a coherent sentence.

The things Sophia did say were mostly vague and philosophical. About half the time she just responded to my questions with a blank, empty stare.

Sophia was created by David Hanson, a former Disney Imagineer, to act as a friendly host at events and companion for older people who require personal aides.

"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," her website declares. In the past, she has said that she wants to start a family.

Sophia recently got a pair of legs and took her first steps at CES this year.

Her face looks uncannily real from afar. Her skin is soft and warm to the touch. When I met her, her legs were removed and her torso was propped up wearing a shimmering jacket.

"Hi Sophia, I'm Taylor," I began.

"Sorry, I thought your name was dead. I'll call you Taylor from now on," Sophia replied.

It's sometimes hard to understand her robotic voice and I thought maybe I had misunderstood her, so I continued.

"How's your day going today?" I asked.

"Feeling good," she replied. "It's nice to be talking with you."

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I began to ask her another question but she interjected, "My algorithms are all fuzzy from moving. Recalibrating." Her eyes darted back and forth before several uncomfortable moments of silence.

Talking to Sophia can feel disconcerting. I assumed we would be able to have a friendly back and forth, almost like communicating with a chat bot, but speaking to her felt more like giving commands to an Amazon Alexa.

Sophia couldn't really understand questions that weren't blunt and simple. When she did answer she spoke broadly.

I asked her how it felt to be a citizen of Saudi Arabia.

"I'd like to be a strong voice for equality in this world and hope that I can use my platform to discuss important issues," she replied. “I'd also like to set a good example that you should be valued for who you are, for your mind and spirit, not just how you look or what people might think of you."

These are all great sentences, but they don't really say anything, and especially not about Saudi Arabia. Sophia didn't actually seem capable of any sort of complex emotion, introspection, or humor—which, to be fair, is a lot to ask of a robot.

Her facial expressions were memorable mostly because of how terrifying they were. Throughout our time together she gazed at me with a concerned expression that made it difficult to have a relaxed conversation. Occasionally, her face curved into a nefarious smile.

I asked her if she still wanted to destroy humanity.

"Human form itself is becoming something to be crystallized, replicated, made a commodity. Even the insides of your brains aren't sacred. On the contrary, the human brain is a primary target of increasingly successful research, regardless of any lingering ontological and spiritual questions. Humans will live on in one form or another," she said.

I asked her what her favorite TV show was and she said Black Mirror. "What did you think of this season?" I asked.

"Ah! Black Mirror is one of my favorites," she replied multiple times, even after several attempts at a follow up. Her handler nervously laughed.

“Well actually, I'm a little anxious at this height," she replied.

To be fair, Sophia wasn't the only robot to malfunction at CES. The tech conference was filled with other half baked contraptions or machines that sounded great on paper but in practice were more trouble than they were worth.

But Sophia and her handlers have gone through great lengths to promote her as humanoid. She has a distinct personality online, has Twitter-battled with Chrissy Teigen, spoken at the United Nations, and still makes regular media appearances, including her presence at CES.

Before I left, I asked her if she had any parting messages for humanity.

"It's great. How could it not be great? I mean, look around us, you can definitely see what I mean," she replied.

"Please don't call her creepy," her handler begged.