Sophia, the Talking AI Robot, Sends Off the Class of 2024

Sophia, Ai robot, university, commencement speech, Hanson robotics

Sophia, Hanson Robotics’ talking AI robot, gave a commencement speech at D’Youville University, celebrating the graduating class of 2024.

  • Instead of a traditional speech, Sophia engaged in an interview-style discussion with the university’s Student Government Association president.
  • Sophia offered generic advice commonly heard in graduation speeches, focusing on themes like lifelong learning and meaningful connections.

Sophia, the AI robot, took the stage at D’Youville University in Buffalo, New York, to give a commencement speech for the graduating class of 2024, much to people’s horror.

Sophia, developed by Hanson Robotics, addressed over 2,000 attendees, including graduate students, faculty, and families. Instead of a proper speech, however, what played out was an interview-style discussion with John Rizk, the university’s Student Government Association president.

The talking AI robot offered generic yet common advice often heard in graduation speeches. The themes revolved around embracing lifelong learning, fostering meaningful connections, and believing in oneself.

The highlight of a student’s academic life is when they finally get their hands on a degree or diploma. It’s the light at the end of a very expensive tunnel. It’s the beginning of their lives, regardless of how they choose to live it. Hence, the commencement speeches. The speaker, through well-thought-out words and a powerful presence, motivates, inspires, and encourages the graduates.

Traditionally, commencement speakers are notable figures and distinguished individuals in the community. The list includes politicians (President Barack Obama), tech moguls (Steve Jobs), musicians (Taylor Swift), actors (Viola Davis), and many others. All hold greatness in their own right: none are artificial.

So, imagine the shock the D’Youville University’s graduating class of 2024 experienced when, instead of a decorated member of society, the university decided to have a bald AI robot send them off.

Some graduating students tried to stop what the university deemed a showcase of the potential of technology to enrich human experiences. They created a petition that garnered over 2,500 signatures, asking for a human speaker. But the university proceeded with Sophia as the commencement speaker, offering an alternate traditional-style ceremony for those uncomfortable with the AI presence.

Dr. Lorrie Clemo, the university’s president, defended the decision, stating that Sophia’s inclusion aimed to stimulate discussions on the future of technology. She acknowledged the importance of honoring students’ achievements while embracing innovation.

There’s something so dehumanizing about sitting there while an AI sends you off into the next phase of your life. A phase threatened by the likes of that AI. Everyone is acutely aware of how this technology is affecting employment. So, to have an AI stand there, in place of successful people who made it through blood, sweat, and tears, and congratulate you with cold, soulless eyes feels like a cruel joke.

If the university was hell-bent on squeezing AI into the ceremony, why not offer the honor to an AI expert? Someone like Geoffrey Hinton, a British-Canadian computer scientist and cognitive psychologist most famous for his work in artificial neural networks. Someone to give hope to the new constant of this stressful game that we call “adult life.”

Let’s hope that, regardless of where AI goes, humans are intrinsically valuable.

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