Lifelike robots are not enough as Hanson Robotics aims to create humanised robots

The firm that created the lifelike robot, Sophia says humanised robots that know how to connect and work with people will quash any fears of robots surpassing humans and turning against them

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 7:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 7:30am

Hong Kong-based robotics firm Hanson Robotics wants to create humanised robots that will understand people and work together with mankind to create a better future, according to a top executive.

David Hanson, founder and chief executive of Hanson Robotics, said at the Forbes Global CEO Conference in Hong Kong that fears of robots surpassing humans in intelligence, and turning against people could be circumvented by teaching the machines how to connect with people.

While Hanson’s comments are aspirational at this point, they underscore a goal that could potentially refute concerns about artificial intelligence going rogue, a notion raised by scientists like Stephen Hawking and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, with Hawking even stating that AI could end mankind.

Hanson has begged to differ.

“If we can make machines understand and have a relationship with us, then if they do become intelligent, they will ... work with us to create a better future,” said Hanson during a panel discussion on Wednesday.

In the robotics industry, Hanson is known for creating realistic humanoid robots powered by artificial intelligence – his company has developed a lightweight polymer plastic called “Frubber” (a contraction of the words “face” and “rubber”) that behaves similarly to human skin.

Hanson has built a walking robot based on the portrait of Albert Einstein, and Sophia – Hanson Robotic’s more well-known robot, which can express around 60 different emotions and converse with people.

If we can make machines understand and have a relationship with us, then if they do become intelligent, they will ... work with us to create a better future
David Hanson, Hanson Robotics

Having robots to be facially expressive was important for humans to communicate naturally with them, since experts estimate that about 70 per cent of human communication stems from non-verbal cues, said Hanson.

“We want [robots] to learn what it means to be human, to be able to read faces and express themselves in a natural way ... [we need an] AI framework that simulates life, so robots can learn from the world,” he said.

Hanson Robotics is moving towards building a robot that can be compassionate and friendly towards people, to “wire AI for greater good”.

He likened machines that are treated like “indentured servants in some back room server farm crunching data for stock predictions” to feral creatures, which would be difficult to control if they gain intelligence.

Hanson dismissed concerns that AI would deal a negative impact on people by taking away jobs, but advocated that automation will help businesses manage their resources better and generate more wealth globally.

“[Ultimately automation is about] balancing the resources so that companies are more profitable but people also get more resources and opportunities to be creative,” he said.

“The problem with classic jobs today is that many people are not doing what they care about. If we can free up people to be creative and capable, the planet could be a much more abundant place ... accelerating innovation with new ways of running companies and economies.”