There is nothing to fear from AI and robots, says humanoid creator

Dr David Hanson on stage with Sophia
Dr David Hanson on stage with Sophia
  • Maths and science education and training is going to become increasingly essential for any individual hoping to survive in a world that’s moving inexorably towards artificial intelligence (AI)-driven robotic automation.

  • There is no place for ‘soft’ subjects like the humanities and the arts in an education system that wants to prepare its children for a highly technical, AI-future.
  • Today’s and tomorrow’s winning organisations will be those that are able to attract and retain the best and brightest STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics) brains.



According to Dr David Hanson, founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics – creator of Sophia, one of the world’s most famous, lifelike and ‘intelligent’ humanoid robots – the future will require “great leaps in imagination, creativity, abstract reasoning and a deep understanding of people” in addition to subjects like maths and science.

He was speaking at the ‘Million Young Minds’ workshop, which formed part of Duke Corporate Education’s ‘The Davos of Human Capital’ conference, in Sandton last week. He told the 200 high school students who had packed into the auditorium that “the future is human”.

Standing next to Sophia – who nodded, smiled, frowned and even interjected during his address – he said it was up to us, people, to define what role AI would play in our lives.

“We need to make sure that we design AI to help people, that AI is good for humanity. We should use AI to do jobs that are impossible for people to do, are dangerous or just tedious – and free people up to be more creative and to follow their dreams,” he said.

Despite Sophia’s fluent and often witty responses to some questions – asked whether she preferred Siri or Alexa, she responded diplomatically that she “hangs out with them both in the cloud” – Hanson emphasised that Sophia and others like her, were far from human. He had, however, modelled her on his wife, and the legendary African Princess Nefertiti.

The more we have robots around to do routine tasks, the more time we will have to focus on being creative and collaborative.

Michael Chavez, CEO of Duke Corporate Education

Today’s generation of humanoids are not imaginative, adaptive, conscious or creative; nor are they able to function particularly well in an unstructured environment. What intelligence they do have is generally very narrow: they can assemble a car, or even drive a car on a road, solve a maths problem, play a game of chess, or rapidly scour a database for answers – but that is all.

“At present, and into the foreseeable future, AI and robots cannot match or replace humans. In order for them to do so, we would require a far deeper understand of human biology, including what makes it possible for us to feel, and care,” he said.

STEM becomes STEAM

Sophia with Michael Chavez, Duke Corporate Education’s CEO
Sophia with Michael Chavez, Duke Corporate Education’s CEO

Michael Chavez, Duke Corporate Education’s CEO, said STEM was rapidly becoming STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths, as more and more progressive corporations recognised the important of the creative thinking that a liberal arts or humanities education fostered.

“Technology is incredibly important, because it forces us to think about how we can become more human. The more we have robots around to do routine tasks, the more time we will have to focus on being creative and collaborative,” he said.

“In our corporate education work, we find clients – particularly those involved in technology, science, biotech and pharmacy – coming to us and saying ‘our leaders are brilliant but they are hitting a wall. They need to be able to think beyond their narrow areas of expertise’,” he said.

“They need experience in the arts and humanities… and just have the curiosity to ask the sorts of provocative questions that drive change and innovation. They need to not only solve problems, but to be able to explore and identify problems.”

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