Davos WEF
Davos WEF

Robots will be smart enough to choose whether to be a Nobel Prize winner or a prostitute, top expert says

Robots will get smart enough to choose their own life path from becoming a Nobel Prize winner to working in the sex industry, a top roboticist told CNBC on Tuesday, adding to concerns about the potential of artificial intelligence (AI).

David Hanson, the CEO of robotics firm Hanson Robotics, has been part of a team that invented Sophia, a life-like robot modeled on Audrey Hepburn and his wife that has 62 facial expressions and can react to spoken word.

The robotics pioneer laid out his vision for the future of robots and Sophia, touting the potential for AI to develop to human-level intelligence.

"I think people fall in love with Audrey Hepburn. She's passed away but people will feel so warm and connected with this person. Audrey Hepburn doesn't exist except in her works of film," Hanson told CNBC during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Could you fall in love with this robot?

"Sophia is in a different class. While she is now a partially fictional character we have developed, she is also an AI development platform and we are developing smarter algorithms with the expectation she will grow really smart, she will have experiences, she will evolve and surprise us, she will become her own woman, her own robotic person, out there in the world. And when that happens, we hope that she will make remarkable contributions, maybe she'll go to university, maybe win a Nobel Prize someday, so I have hopes for her the way that I have hopes for my child."

What this also means, Hanson explained, is that AI could have the ability to be able to choose their own career path and that could mean a robot might decide to become a prostitute. In that case, society should support the robot's decision.

"Once the AI reaches the age of consent, once it is mature and it decides for itself to go into that career, then I would say it's our responsibility to give the robots the right to choose their own way," Hanson said.

The CEO's comments come as debates over the role of AI and robots within society continue to rage on, particularly at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Many major technologists including Tesla boss Elon Musk, have warned about the dangers of AI. Experts have also warned about the damaging impact of so-called "sex robots" on society.

Hanson took a balanced view and said while there could be negative effects, there are a lot of positives too.

"You can say they could be very positive in their impact because lonely people who never get a chance to have a relationship can suddenly have a relationship, and could decrease the demand for sex slavery, or sex traffic. It could decrease the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, it could reduce the incompetence of human to human relations because they could serve as a kind of sex therapist and could train people for better human to human relationships," Hanson told CNBC.

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