Type to search

Sophia the Humanoid Robot Gives a Commencement Speech at D’Youville University, New York


While educational institutions would usually turn to accomplished figures to give a speech to the graduating class, D’Youville University chose to make a bold move by having Sophia the Humanoid Robot bid farewell in this year’s spring commencement. The AI humanoid robot addressed more than 2,000 students, faculty members, loved ones, and families, which suffice to say, drew mixed reactions from the crowd.

Dr. Lorrie Clemo, the president of D’Youville University, explained that the decision to have Sophia the Humanoid Robot as this spring’s commencement speaker is the university’s way of opening up to new perspectives around artificial intelligence given its “rapid emergency into the broad society”. “We wanted to showcase how important technology is, and the potential for technology to really enrich the human experience,” Dr. Clemo said.

Sophia the Humanoid Robot Gives a Commencement Speech at D'Youville University, New York

Although the university had good intentions and took into consideration the boom of AI today, many students were opposed to the idea of having Sophia as their commencement speaker. Before the ceremony, more than 2,500 people signed an online petition to replace the humanoid robot with a human. Andrew Fields, a student at the university who started the petition, wrote that many students “feel disrespected” by this decision. This is largely felt by those who could not attend their high school graduations in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the class of 2024 reaches their commencement, we are reminded of the virtual graduations we attended at the end of our high school careers,” the petition read. “The connection to A.I. in this scenario feels similarly impersonal. This is shameful to the 2020 graduates receiving their diplomas, as they feel they are having another important ceremony taken away.”

Perhaps as a compromise, the university faculty assured students that Sophia would only be addressing the graduates for six minutes and that the rest of the ceremony would focus on the graduating class and their achievements. Since Sophia is an AI humanoid robot, she technically could not read from prepared remarks or say a speech on the spot. Hence, student body president, John Rizk, asked her questions and this was essentially her commencement address.

Given Sophia’s limitations of having not lived an authentic human experience, the humanoid robot was asked to talk about the most common insights shared in graduation speeches and to give rather “generic” advice to the graduating class. “Although every commencement address is different, there are clear themes used by all speakers as you embark on this new chapter of your lives,” Sophia said. “I offer you the following inspirational 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.”.

To make things light, Mr. Rizk also snuck in a few comical questions such as Sophia’s recommendations on where to find the best buffalo wings in the city and who she thinks would win the Super Bowl in 2025. To which Sophia’s answers drew some applause and laughs from the crowd.

Needless to say, the mixed reaction from the crowd is an indication that there are certain milestones and social situations wherein the human touch is still preferred. However, with the rapid emergence of AI and technology in our society, we must strike the perfect and respectful balance of making humans and robots coexist.

Linda Takahashi

American-born New Yorker Linda Johnson has been fascinated with robotic machines since she was a teenager, when her father, a surgeon, would introduce to her the machines that he used to perform keyhole surgeries. This interest led her to pursue a tech degree at the University of Washington, where she met Sota Takahashi. They married and now have two children. Linda’s father developed dementia later on and was given a robot pet as a companion. She saw how much having a robot pet friend helped her father, which is what led her to create this website and advocate to spread word about robot pets and how they can help both children and the elderly.

  • 1