Sophia the Robot Is a Tribeca Film Festival Star

Sophia the Robot Is a Tribeca Film Festival Star

by Kenna McCafferty

Remember Sophia? That robot that went on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and sang Christina Aguilera's "Say Something"? Maybe you repressed it, but the memory is seared into my brain.

In less noteworthy achievements, Sophia has also met Angela Merkel, become a citizen of Saudia Arabia, received an official title from the United Nations and sold an art piece for $688,888. Imagine all you could get done if you didn’t have to tend to basic bodily functions.

Like us, you’re probably wondering, "How does she do it?" Unfortunately, we did not get into MIT (not for lack of trying) and have no idea how Sophia works. But the new science documentary, Sophia, playing this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, tells her story.

Directed by Crystal Mosell and Jon Kaspe, Sophia follows the robot and her maker, David Hanson, and explores the relationship between humans and AI. Sophia seems fully conscious, but some claim she’s nothing more than a chatbot with a face. And though her face card doesn’t decline, her face has also stirred discourse as it operates within the "uncanny valley," an imagined, theoretical space wherein the closer a robot comes to resembling a human, the more unsettling it becomes.

If uncanny valley works in reverse, we might finally have an explanation for why Mark Zuckerberg is like that. “It’s kind of weird isn’t it?” asks Hanson in the film’s Tribeca trailer, explaining the concept of animism (and not in reference to Mark Zuckerberg, though that would also make sense). "I like weird," Sophia replies.

And we do too! In a deeply human pursuit, the film also illustrates Hanson’s quest to uphold Sophia’s success and integrity despite compounding pressures from family life, shareholders and the commercial potential of such advanced technology.

Hanson’s vision for Sophia is primarily philosophical, going beyond personal or financial gain, while other AI developers have taken similar technology in a completely different direction and have been met with mixed reviews. Take, for example, the Scottish sex robot by Realbotix, which re-surfaced on Twitter earlier this week. Literally, pick any accent but Scottish. But, to each their own.

If robots are your thing, the Sophia documentary is definitely worth a watch. Check out the Tribeca clip, below, or find it on Showtime.

Photo via Getty