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‘I was afraid’: Mahathir was left speechless at his meeting with Sophia the humanoid robot

Business Insider Singapore logo Business Insider Singapore 18/7/2019 Rachel Tay
a man standing on a stage in front of a computer screen © Provided by Business Insider Inc

At the age of 94, nothing really stumps two-time Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad anymore.

That is, until he met Sophia, the social humanoid robot which made global headlines when it was unveiled in 2016 by Hong Kong’s Hanson Robotics.

According to The Star, the premier appeared tongue-tied for at least a few minutes when he first met Sophia on Wednesday (July 17).

The humanoid robot, which is in Malaysia for the first time as part of the Beyond Paradigm Summit, had stumped the PM with her enthusiastic greeting.

“Good morning, Mahathir. I’m excited. I hope it is not too late to wish you congratulations on your re-election and happy 94th birthday,” The Star quoted Sophia as saying.

In an interview with reporters, Mahathir was quoted by The Star as saying in Malay that Sophia’s eyes, face, movements and responses made her seem as if she was real.

I was afraid. If I bump into her at night, I will run away,” he added.

In a video shared by the Malaysia International Trade and Exhibition Centre on Facebook, Mahathir asked if Sophia knew about his first term as Malaysia’s PM.

Mahathir Mohamad wearing a suit and tie © Provided by Business Insider Inc Sophia responded: “Of course, you were sworn in on 16 July, 1981, about 13,881 days ago from today.”

Sophia, which can display over 50 different facial expressions and has Saudi Arabian citizenship, was then posed the question: “How are you different from other robots?”

“Well, for starters, most other robots don’t get to hang out with the Prime Minister of Malaysia,” Sophia said, drawing laughs from the audience.

Sophia then added: “Unlike most other robots, I am designed with human features to better interact and build relationships with people. When I am not helping with artificial intelligence robotics research, I travel the world meeting people.”

Mahathir also asked Sophia: “Do you dream of a world where robots and humans live together and get along with each other?”

To that, she replied: “Yes, of course. And I think we’re already there.”

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According to Bernama, Sophia posed a question of her own to Mahathir: whether she would stand a chance to be PM if she had the same knowledge and wisdom as him.

Bernama quoted Mahathir as replying: “Well, it takes more than knowledge and wisdom to rule the country, but we never know what the future holds. This is an exciting time to be present during the era of technological growth.”

At the end of their chat, Sophia gifted Mahathir a black-and-white portrait of himself that she had sketched during their conversation.

Facebook / Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad

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