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‘Sophia the Robot’ Fascinates at ACS Athens on April 23

ATHENS – The world-famous humanoid robot Sophia filled the auditorium of the American Community Schools of Athens April 23, fascinating many in the audience. Smartly attired in a long purple dress and standing center stage among the humans, Sophia gracefully moved her arms, turned her head to face questioners, raised her eyebrows in thought, occasionally opened her mouth in surprise, and sometimes smiled politely or ironically –  welcoming the more than 400 attendees to a ‘brave new world’.

Sophia was a full participant in the latest iteration of the platform (soon to become an NGO) The Debate Podcast, two panels of experts, almost all under age 40, regarding the opportunities and challenges for humanity posed by Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

The first panel was titled ‘A.I. and Current Developments’ and included Konstantinos Kyranakis – Deputy Minister of Digital Governance, Adrianos Botsios – Founder of Dynamic Innovations and founder of Green Team, Andriana Manetta – CEO of Victorious Network and Marketing and Sales Director at Hanson Robotics Greece/Cyprus, Maria Oraiozili Koutsoupia – President of the Rythmisis Institute, and Konstantinos Kechagias – A.I. & Privacy Specialist, Founder of the Google Developer Student Club.

Sophia the robot is seen with Andriana Manetta – CEO of Victorious Network and Marketing and Sales Director at Hanson Robotics Greece/Cyprus. Photo: TNH/Dean Sirigos

The second was titled ‘A.I. in Society and Economy’, and included Athina Polina Ntova, leading Talent Acquisition expert and Co-founder of Owiwi, Lilian Psylla – A.I. and social robots pioneer, and again, Manetta.

The Debate Podcast’s mission is to create a platform, through live gatherings and on the internet – 250+ debates so far – where citizens can share their feelings, thoughts, and ideas, no matter who they are. They believe that through open and sincere dialogue – where the participants really listen to and respect each other, an important ‘innovation’ for Greece – “we can develop as a society and strengthen democracy. We envision a world where everyone has the opportunity to be heard and understood.”

Founder Fillipos Petropoulos, now assisted by an exceptional team including Project Manager Christos Lagadianos and Technology Assistant Meletios Flevarakis, welcomed the guests and introduced the panelists, all stars in their fields, but the evening’s luminary was Sophia – unlike other robot models, she has a distinct personality and has even been recognized by one country as a citizen.

ACS Athens filled its auditorium when it hosted one of the more than 250 discussions of the platform ‘The Debate Podcast’ on April 23. Photo: TNH/Dean Sirigos

Had she been able to follow up her thoughtful and thought-provoking, articulate and perfectly natural responses to questions directed to her by walking over and taking a seat next to the panelists during the break – that is coming, for sure – fascination might have turned to apprehension. Among the insights gleaned by research about human reactions to robots is that clear distinctions and differences should remain between the human and humanoid members of the Earth’s future population.

After Koutsoupia spoke extensively about the EU’s A.I. regulation efforts, including restrictions and penalties, a vigorous discussion ensued, touching on the best approaches, the problem of enforcement, and the potentially pernicious effects of competition between entities and nations – due both to profit motives fears of being left behind. It was emphasized that creators and regulators must work together, the audience learning about the importance of matters like ‘algorithmic transparency’ to let others know what is going on – and ‘A.I. Sandboxes – a kind of ‘cone of silence’ enabling scientists to progress unmolested, suggesting an ideal if not too idealistic balance that must be struck, the talk often evoking Plato’s quip: “who guards the guardians?”

Sophia the robot is seen with Andriana Manetta – CEO of Victorious Network and Marketing and Sales Director at Hanson Robotics Greece/Cyprus. Photo: TNH/Dean Sirigos

It appears that a revolution in education will be among A.I.’s first fruits, though Human Resource departments are exploring A.I. interviews – the pros and cons were addressed – and guests gasped when told new medicine development time is being reduced from 12 to 3 years – “a great leap for mankind” one panelist said.

The Debate Podcast is devoted to the protection and development of democracy, and the talk included the ironic recruitment of A.I. to help detect ‘deep fakes’ and other deceptions.

Opinions varied about what happens when robots will do almost everything better than humans – and whether A.I.s will have true consciousness – some asserting that as in the past, new jobs will be born as old ones die, others saying this time, change is coming too fast for humanity to adjust. It was also noted that these creations can only be as ethical as their creators, while some attendees wondered how long it will take for the robots to lose patience with their emotional, i.e. often irrational ‘masters’. Petropoulos bravely closed on some positive notes: “To those saying the best Greek brains have left, I say ‘No! They are here – and look, Sophia is standing there, and she is speaking Greek.”

Regarding regulating A.I., he concluded by saying: “The power is in the hands of our representatives, in other words, in our hands.”


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