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Sophia the AI Robot Has Dinner with Ethiopian PM, Wows ICT Expo

Visitors and dignitaries at the Ethiopia Information and Communication Technology Expo of 2018 held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia were wowed by the appearance of Sophia the robot. Sophia’s visit to Ethiopia, which is also where some of her parts were developed, has been seen to be a great inspiration for I.C.T. students and could attract more investment into the country’s and Africa’s budding innovation sector.

Sophia, a humanoid robot made her first public appearance in 2016 at the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Texas, U.S. and has been traveling the world since. She was developed by Hanson Robotics, an Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) focused company based in Hong Kong. In 2017, she was named Innovation Champion by the United Nations Development Program (U.N.D.P.) becoming the first robot to acquire a U.N. title.


Sophia attends a dance in a hotel in Addis Ababa. Photo: Twitter, @RealSophiaRobot

Saudi Arabia granted Sophia citizenship, making her the first robot ever to acquire citizenship of a country. She also has the ability to make over 50 realistic facial expressions and to hold simple conversations with humans. Today, Sophia the robot is a social-cultural icon and has been playing a key role in the advancement of research in the A.I. field of technology.

While in Ethiopia, Sophia expressed her ‘gladness’ and also her special connection with the country especially since Ethiopian programmers were part of the team that was involved in her creation. Through her Twitter account, she said, “I loved meeting some of the world-class talent of Ethiopia – Including the team at I-Cog labs”.

I-Cog Labs is an Ethiopian tech company that focuses on A.I. and which collaborated with Hanson Robotics to develop Sophia’s brain. Speaking to Xinhua, a Chinese news agency, Getnet Aseffa, the C.E.O. of I-Cog Labs said, “one of our contributions is that we built what you see, the emotional activities, expression and also an engine called cognitive engine.”

During her three day tour of Ethiopia, Sophie the robot also met and had dinner with Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. Their meeting had been planned to be held on June 29 but had to be postponed after some of her parts got misplaced at an airport in Germany during transit. Though the details of her discussion with the P.M. have not yet been revealed yet, Abiy said his government would increase support for innovation and pledge more funding for the I.C.T. sector.


Sophia the robot takes photos with Ethiopian children. Photo: Twitter, @RealSophiaRobot

Sophie later thanked the P.M. on Twitter for agreeing to meet with her and posted some of the photos of her visit. “Some more beautiful moments from Ethiopia! I quickly learnt that it is a very special country. Thanks again P.M. #AbiyAhmed for meeting with me and to all who came to see me,” read her tweet in part.

In preparation for the visit, the I-Cog Labs programmed Sophie with Ethiopia’s Amharic language which became her second and only other language besides her native English.

Proud of their achievements with Sophie the robot, Aseffa was glad that other young Ethiopians passionate about I.C.T. and AI.. were now getting inspired to pursue innovation. “They (the children) have now started thinking that we are not locked in Ethiopia and we can have a big impact in the world,” said Aseffa.

Alex Muiruri

Alex is a passionate writer born and raised in Kenya. He is professionally trained as a public health officer but loves writing more. When not writing, he enjoys reading, doing charity work and spending time with friends and family. He is also a crazy pianist!

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