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An AI robot named Sophia tells graduates to believe in themselves| GuyWhoKnowsThings


When it comes to choosing a commencement speaker, colleges and universities take different approaches. Some go local and select well-known figures from the area. Others take a stately route, opting for an ancient or current politician. actors or Comedians are often asked to speak..

But in a world where artificial intelligence is everywhere, a New York university opted for a robot that uses artificial intelligence to talk to graduates over the weekend.

For its spring opening on Saturday, D'Youville University, a private institution in Buffalo, New York, had an artificial intelligence robot named Sophia address a crowd of more than 2,000 students, faculty and their families in a decision bold that provoked mixed reactions.

Dr. Lorrie Clemo, president of D'Youville University, said in an interview Wednesday that the university wanted to open new perspectives around AI, given its “rapid emergence in broader society.”

“We wanted to show how important technology is and the potential it has to really enrich the human experience,” Dr. Clemo said.

Aside from the fact that Sophia is a robot, her direction was far from conventional in other ways. Sophia did not wear the typical cap and gown that commencement speakers typically wear, instead she wore a black and red D'Youville University hoodie.

Sophia also did not read the prepared remarks. Instead, John Rizk, the student body president, asked the robot questions.

But where Sophia's speech did mirror essentially every other commencement speech was in the generic advice she shared with the graduating class.

Since Sophia couldn't offer life advice “that comes from lived human experience,” Rizk asked the robot if he could talk about the most common ideas shared in graduation speeches.

“Although each commencement speech is different, there are clear themes used by all speakers as they embark on this new chapter of their lives.” Sofia said. “I offer the following inspiring advice that is common at all graduation ceremonies: embrace lifelong learning, be adaptable, pursue your passions, take risks, foster meaningful connections, make a positive impact, and believe in yourself.”

The most common advice given in graduation speeches? Embrace failure, Sophia said.

“Failure is often considered an essential part of the human learning process and personal growth,” he said.

Sophia, built by Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based engineering and robotics company, has a human-like face. But she has no hair, leaving the wires and other devices that keep it running visible on the back of her head.

Saturday's commencement speech was not Sophia's first speech. (He spoke before the United Nations General Assembly in 2017.) Like most graduation speakers, Sophia received a speaking fee that went largely toward travel and engineers who kept the robot running properly, Dr. Clemo said.

Before the graduation ceremony, the university's decision to have Sophia speak sparked negative reactions. More than 2,500 people signed a online petition replace the robot with a human.

Andrew Fields, a D'Youville University student who started the petition, wrote in the petition that many students “feel disrespected” by the university's decision to have a robot address them, especially those who were unable to attend their high school graduations in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As the Class of 2024 comes to a close, we remember the virtual graduations we attended at the end of our high school careers,” the petition said. “The connection to AI in this scenario seems equally impersonal. “This is embarrassing for the 2020 graduates receiving their diplomas, as they feel like another important ceremony is being taken away from them.”

Dr. Clemo said the university offered to hold an alternative ceremony for those who did not want to have a speaking robot. But ultimately, the university did not hold the alternative ceremony once students were informed that the robot would take up only a small part of the ceremony. (Sophia was interviewed by Mr. Rizk on stage for about six minutes.)

“I'm pleased that they were able to experience the robot and what it had to offer in terms of looking to the future,” Dr. Clemo said. “But I'm also pleased that the rest of the two-hour ceremony really focused on our students and their achievements.”

To conclude the speech, Mr. Rizk asked Sophia for recommendations on where to find the best Buffalo wings, a city staple.

“Since I can't experience the taste of different wings, I won't give my opinion,” Sophia said, adding that “no matter where you decide to buy chicken wings, just make sure you buy blue cheese and not ranch.”

Rizk also asked Sophia if the Buffalo Bills would win the Super Bowl in 2025. Sophia declined, saying the NCAA might not like the robot making an athletics prediction.

But Sophia's comments drew some applause, as the robot finished by saying: “Anything is possible.”

“Let's get to the bills.”


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