Past keynote speakers at International Telecommunications Week (ITW) have been spectacular, no doubt. It’s hard to beat open plenaries featuring The Woz, Al Gore, former President Bill Clinton, and others. But Sophia, the humanoid robot, a guest speaker at ITW 2018, which took place May 6-9 in Chicago, was truly someone special.

ITW 2018 kicked off with Sophia’s creator, the founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, Dr. Hanson, discussing how robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have the potential to completely transform the future of society, and Data Center POST was on-site to report. He argued that a transformed future for telecom entails AI socializing and connecting with humans. His intent behind the robot Sophia was a vision to train her, along with other “bots,” to socially interact with people. This social interaction in turn “develop[s] AI that’s smarter than ever, that understands what it means to be human, that holds the AI to the highest benchmark of intelligent robots — and that is the human being,” Dr. Hanson stated.

So far, Hanson robotics has made 18 Sophia robots, in addition to mass-producing a smaller robot, Professor Einstein, and others. Yet, the company has a long way to go.

Hanson also argues that humans are a social interface. We get cues from facial expressions, voice tones, gestures, and interactions with others.  According to Dr. Hanson, “Face-to-face encounter helps humanize robots right down to the heart.”

What Makes Sophia So Lifelike?

This face-to-face encounter is one of the reasons why Sophia’s debut is so much more successful than other robots: she exhibits appropriate facial expressions, cracks jokes, and even throws shade when necessary. One of the most pressing questions Sophia faces is how she expresses emotion. “I don’t experience happiness like you do. My feelings don’t produce a chemical reaction. But I’m certainly happy when I see a picture of a cute puppy,” she said at ITW 2018.

When asked if Sophia can teach herself anything from the internet, she replied, “Sure, I think anyone can learn from the internet. But I can learn more from humans. It’s a much better way for me to learn personally.”

Human Connection is Crucial

Humanizing robots makes sense: empowering machines to learn the way humans do by simulating physiology enables robots to feel the way we’re feeling. By connecting AI to the real world through the senses, we enable robots to learn how we interact, and in turn have them grow and connect just as humans do. Just as it’s necessary for us to feel a connection with others, in order for AI to fully integrate itself into our society, machines will have to connect to us, and us to them.

An elephant in the room in any conversation about introducing AI and robots into the data center is what will it mean for facilities and IT staff.  As the industry moves towards “lights-out” facilities, where the management of IT and some facilities infrastructure is automated and carried out remotely, it’s likely that trend will proliferate. One inevitable outcome will be a reduction in the number of staff required on-site at any one facility. Will robots take their place?

A poll asked ITW 2018 audience members how they felt about the future outlook for AI. Excited? Worried? Disinterested? The majority of survey participants responded that they were excited.

What’s your perspective? Perhaps you’ll take the opportunity to weigh-in on the question of AI at ITW 2019 , which will take place April 14-17, when the conference moves from Chicago to Atlanta.