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Robot Sophia inspires young Ethiopian AI enthusiasts

ADDIS ABABA (Xinhua) -- Sophia, the famous humanoid robot, on Tuesday met with more than 200,000 young artificial intelligence (AI) enthusiasts as part of her visit in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.

Sophia, who arrived in Addis Ababa on last Friday, had missed much of her schedule as a bag containing some of her parts went missing at the Frankfurt Airport on her way to Ethiopia.

On Tuesday, Sophia attended the gathering at the 2nd International Information Communication Technology (ICT) Expo Ethiopia 2018, which is underway in Addis Ababa with the theme “Transform Ethiopia.”

I-cog Labs, an Ethiopian AI-focused company that had been involved in the development of Sophia’s software parts, facilitated the meeting between Sophia and young Ethiopians.

Getnet Aseffa, I-cog Labs CEO, told Xinhua on Tuesday that Sophia, which has more than 2 billion followers globally, met a huge gathering of young Ethiopians.

Developed by Hanson Robotics and activated in 2015, Sophia was granted Saudi citizenship in 2017, which makes her the first robot to receive citizenship of any country. Sophia is also regarded as the “realest” robot to this day.

According to Aseffa, his company has been working in partnership with Hanson Robotics for the past four years, during which they were able to contribute to the development of the brain parts of Sophia.

“One of our contribution is that we built what you see the emotional activities, expression and also an engine called cognitive engine,” Aseffa told Xinhua.

“In I-cog Labs there are parts of Sophia to perceive environment, for example when Sophia observes a crowd, she would perceive a gathering, a meeting, an event or expo,” he said. “Such types of decisions are made by her cognitive brain that was built by I-cog Labs.”

According to him, the fact that Ethiopians have contributed in the making of Sophia could be seen as a major factor that motivates and inspires young Ethiopians in the AI sector.

“They (the children) have started thinking that we are not locked in Ethiopia and we can have a big impact in the world,” he added.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who met Sophia at the Ethiopian National Palace on Monday, also called on Ethiopian youth to embrace developments in the AI sector.

Ahmed, who acknowledged Sophia’s addressing in Ethiopia’s working language Amharic, stressed that her visit would help in promoting the AI sector in Ethiopia.

Noting the involvement of Ethiopians for Sophia’s development process, Ahmed asserted that Ethiopia has thousands of “brilliant minds” that could help integrate with the future of the software development and artificial intelligence sectors in the East African country.

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