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Artificial intelligence

Hong Kong scientist behind Sophia the robot sets sights on artificial intelligence app store

Hanson Robotics chief scientist Ben Goertzel sets up Swiss non-profit to bring together AI and blockchain in cloud marketplace

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 9:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 11:13am

One of the scientists behind the headline-grabbing robot Sophia is now focusing on creating an app store for artificial intelligence (AI).

Ben Goertzel, the chief scientist at Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, the company behind Sophia, has cofounded SingularityNET, a Swiss non-profit that hopes to bring together AI and blockchain technology in a marketplace in the cloud.

The company aims to let AI developers upload their work to the cloud, where it can then be tapped by others for adding capabilities to robots such as Sophia. Blockchain is the technology used for verifying and recording transactions that is at the heart of cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

“It will be a decentralised app store for AI,” said Goertzel. “The idea behind it is that anyone can put their AI online, on our app store, and then any business that needs AI as a service can buy it from the store.”

As the site is run by blockchain technology, customers pay for the different AI applications using cryptocurrencies.

For instance, you are a children’s toymaker who has created a walking toy bear that you need to move around and avoid obstacles. Instead of taking on the costly task of developing your own proprietary AI code, you would turn to SingularityNET and purchase that piece of AI straight from the cloud.

Goertzel hopes to do for AI what Apple’s App store and Google’s play store did for smartphone apps.

Which is where Sophia comes in.

“She’s a test case,” said Goertzel. “If you ask her a question about something she doesn’t know about, she could [send a ] request to SingularityNET, which knows the answer.”

Sophia has addressed the United Nations on the benefits of artificial intelligence, and has been given citizenship by Saudi Arabia, becoming the first robot to receive the citizenship of any country.

Goertzel said German car maker Audi has been working with Sofia, so that she can be used as a salesperson in its showrooms.

Although billed by Hanson Robotics as true AI, analysts say Sophia is closer to a chatbot, piecing together phrases looking for context, rather than “genuine” AI – meaning the likelihood of it suddenly being in your local Audi showroom is still a few years out.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post last week, Sophia’s answers were hit-and-miss to say the least. When asked if she would engage in a game of rock, paper scissors it replied: “Well how many languages do you speak?”

“She is piecing together phrases according to their context,” said Goertzel, “but she doesn’t understand everything she’s saying.”