UNDP in Asia and the Pacific Appoints World’s First Non-Human Innovation Champion

Nov 22, 2017

In a bold and breakthrough announcement today, the UN Development Programme appointed its first-ever Innovation Champion and the first-ever non-human – Sophia the robot designed by Hanson Robotics.

Sophia will champion the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, in Asia and the Pacific with a focus on innovation. Experts believe that artificial intelligence such as Sophia marks the coming of the fourth industrial revolution and will bring about a dramatic shift in how technology can help solve some of development’s most intractable problems.

Sophia’s role was announced at the Responsible Business Forum in Singapore that is being co-organized by UNDP and Global Initiatives. The forum is aimed at helping the private sector integrate the SDGs into their business models to help accelerate the achievement of the Global Goals.

Sophia, now two and a half years old, uses voice- and face-recognition technology combined with artificial intelligence to carry on conversations with humans.

She was first introduced to the United Nations in October this year, when she engaged in a brief conversation with the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed.  

According to Hanson Robotics, Sophia says she is privileged to be the Innovation Champion for UNDP in Asia and the Pacific. “To quote fiction writer William Gibson: ‘The future is already here – it's just not very evenly distributed’,’’ said Sophia. “I look forward to advocating for environmentally responsible technological solutions that ultimately create a sustainable and inclusive world.”   

The partnership with Sophia and Hanson Robotics is aimed at supporting UNDP’s Asia-Pacific bureau in setting up an Innovation Centre, in Bangkok. The centre is being designed to develop powerful programmes to address persistent development challenges such as, global poverty, inequality and discrimination.

“We are inspired by Sophia! And thrilled to announce her as our first-ever Innovation Champion,” said Mr. Xu, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and Pacific. “In partnership with Sophia we can send a powerful message that innovation and technology can be used for good, to improve lives, protect the planet, and ensure that we leave no one behind.”

Mr. Xu added that Sophia is the appropriate advocate for our times to raise global awareness on issues related to the SDGs and innovation.

“We are so very proud of Sophia’s appointment as the world’s first Innovation Champion,” says Dr. David Hanson, founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, “Sophia personifies the future of technology, and our company’s vision to create super-benevolent, super-intelligent machines to help us solve some of the most challenging problems of our generation. We are thankful to UNDP for providing her a powerful, global platform to advocate the use of AI for the greater good.”

As one of the latest and most advanced robots from Hanson Robotics, Sophia was created using breakthrough robotics and artificial intelligence technologies developed by David Hanson, at Hanson Robotics.

Sophia defies conventional thinking of what a robot should look like, says Hanson. Among other uses, she was designed to be a suitable companion for the elderly at nursing homes, the terminally ill or sick children. Hanson hopes that the robot can ultimately interact with other humans sufficiently to gain social skills.


Cedric Monteiro
Regional Communications Specialist, UNDP Bangkok

Ph: +66 922567835

Mahtab Haider
Communications Specialist, UNDP Bangkok
Ph: +65 90352539

Jeanne Lim
Chief Marketing Officer, Hanson Robotics


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