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sophia robotSophia the Robot. Graham Flanagan/Business Insider

  • Facebook’s AI chief has slammed Sophia the robot, a human-looking robot which has made headlines for saying it wanted to “destroy all humans” in conversations with journalists.
  • Facebook’s Yann LeCun said Sophia was “complete bullsh*t” and criticised media for giving coverage to “Potemkin AI.”
  • Ben Goertzel, chief executive of Sophia’s creator SingularityNET, responded by criticising Facebook and the way it was abused to spread Russian propaganda around the US election.
  • Goertzel said he had never pretended Sophia was close to human-level intelligence and that people loved interacting with the robot.

Sophia the robot has made headlines at Business Insider and other media outlets for its threats to destroy all humans, for becoming an actual citizen of Saudi Arabia, and for rejecting marriage proposals.

But Facebook’s director of artificial intelligence research, Yann LeCun, is not convinced. Tweeting out Business Insider’s December interview with Sophia, LeCun wrote: “This is to AI as prestidigitation [conjuring tricks] is to real magic. Perhaps we should call this ‘Cargo Cult AI’ or ‘Potemkin AI’ or ‘Wizard-of-Oz AI’. In other words, it’s complete bullsh*t (pardon my French).”

He concluded: “Tech Insider: you are complicit in this scam.” Ouch.

LeCun didn’t respond to Business Insider’s request for elaboration but his criticism appears to be that Sophia, which can talk to humans in a conversational manner, isn’t human-level artificial intelligence or even close. Instead, it’s more like a chatbot, with no understanding of what it’s doing.

Ben Goertzel, CEO and chief scientist at Sophia’s creator SingularyNET, said he had never pretended Sophia was close to human-level intelligence.

He said the robot was a piece of human-looking hardware which ran different programmes under different circumstances. For example, when Sophia is talking to a journalist, it’s running software that turns it into a “sophisticated chatbot.” When it’s giving a speech at the United Nations, it’s running off a pre-programmed script. Sometimes it runs on Goertzel’s OpenCog AI software system.

And Goertzel had some sharp words for Facebook and Yann LeCun too.

“Obviously I don’t agree with his statements,” Goertzel told Business Insider. “I find it kind of funny. Like Facebook is obviously gathering everyone’s personal data and then using machine learning to post Russian-generated fake news onto everyone’s Facebook page to make them vote for Donald Trump. After using machine learning this way to manipulate people’s minds, Facebook wants to take on a startup for making a loveable robot.”

This is something of an exaggeration — Facebook estimated that 150 million Americans saw misinformation relating to the US election. It’s a substantial amount, but not “everyone,” and it’s a stretch to say this forced anyone to vote for Donald Trump.

Goertzel acknowledged Sophia isn’t artificial general intelligence, the industry term for human-level machine intelligence, and said no one’s achieved this yet.

“The current software controlling Sophia is not human-level general intelligence, but neither is anything Facebook is doing, nor is anything Google is doing,” he said. “What’s a bit outrageous to me in comments like Yann LeCun’s is that it’s exalting certain forms of narrow AI and saying the kinds of narrow AI he is doing at Facebook is ‘real AI’, and the kinds of narrow AI underlying Sophia is not real AI. That’s bullshit.”

sophia robotSophia the robot with co-creator Dr. David Hanson. Denis Balibouse/Reuters

While Goertzel said he’s never pretended Sophia has human capabilities, SingularityNET chairman David Hanson has described Sophia as “basically alive.”

This, combined with Sophia’s ongoing media coverage, explains the criticism. But Goertzel thinks other AI organisations are jealous of the public attention — and says it’s good normal people are debating and talking about artificial intelligence.

“I think the negative reactions are from jealous people in AI or the tech world saying, ‘Why aren’t people paying attention to our tech?'” he said.

“Most people don’t care,” he added. “Even if you tell them she doesn’t understand, people want to relate to her as a character anyway.”

Here’s Business Insider’s most recent interview with Sophia:

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