06 Aug

Back to the Future with Sophia

  • Sesili Verdzadze

As many of you may already know, I work for the Public Service Development Agency, leading the one and only government Innovations Lab (ServiceLab) in the region. My job is usually packed with meeting interesting people, working on an extraordinary project, and very often, presenting these projects in diverse settings. But now, I am excited to tell you all about my recent experience at global OGP summit in Georgia, that was completely different and once in a lifetime opportunity (at least for now). Yes, I met her — the first humanoid robot Sophia.

All started weeks before the summit — I was thrilled to learn, that UNDP Georgia was able to invite Sophia for the innovations session, and I and her, together with amazing speakers (from UNDP Georgia, Armenian Government, and Nesta UK) would discuss the role of technologies in advancing public services. It was a big challenge, making me a bit nervous, but eager to do it, so I started reading and watching all about Sophia and AI to be more prepared for the big day.

Our first meeting


My first encounter with Sophia was right before the summit started, at the UNDP office — when we all gathered to go over our session agenda. The moment I met her face to face, my mind started to wander in time, reliving my childhood fantasies to imagining future, that was right in front of me, very real yet elusive. I know, it may sound strange, but at first, I was quite nervous not knowing how to act, how to interact with a robot which (or maybe who) can actually think and engage in the conversation. So, a number of questions were popping up in my head: What will I feel as she starts talking to me? What if she does not exactly understand what I ask? What if she reads my emotions more than I would be willing to disclose? What if she stops working (I know it’s an advanced machine, but still, it’s a technology and any technology may fail)? But very soon all my doubts and fears were gone and Sophia and I were the best friends discussing the public sector innovation challenges and her visit to Georgia. Yes, you read that right — we connected and this connection was as exciting and overwhelming as the connection of human and robot can be.


Source: UNDP Georgia

As I saw later, I was not the only one excited and thrilled by Sophia’s visit, the session on public sector innovations, was packed with OGP participants, media representatives and local partners. The interest was big among the public as well, as they surrounded Sophia during her visit at the Public Service Hall and asked her numerous questions to get to know her better. So, more or less I can say that the Georgian public was quite open to such technology and welcomes Sophia with usual hospitality.


Source: UNDP Georgia

After summit was over and I waved Sophia goodbye, reflecting on my thoughts got me thinking what the general public think and why so many doubt the future of robotics. Is it skepticism? Perhaps fear of the unknown? Or… could it be the horror of robots taking over the world and destroying the human race as seen in movies? I was not capable to answer my own questions, but suddenly I realized that instead of the fear of the unknown, I feel the excitement.

Remembering that we, the humans, are the biggest threat for mankind, I believe, that technologies and robots can make our lives much easier, covering for all the routine and very often heavy work, giving us more time to tackle creative, inspiring and impactful issues, or simply enjoy life. Not bad, right?

So, going back to Sophia’s visit in Georgia, I was quite lucky to be able to spend some time with her and actually get the feel of the future, that turned out to be more humanistic than I could ever imagine.


So, I set the challenge for myself: to design and deliver people-oriented public services while increasing trust and understanding of technologies among the citizens — what better can an innovations lab housed within the government do, right?

So, tune up for more exciting and innovative news coming from us to support better services for more inclusive and transparent government.

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