AI robot 'Sophia' gives commencement speech at D’Youville University in Buffalo, NY

“We are reminded of the virtual graduations we attended at the end of our high school careers.”


On Saturday, instead of a traditional speaker to give the speech at graduation, D’Youville University in Buffalo, New York, chose an AI robot named Sophia to address the students, causing some backlash among the graduates.  

According to The New York Times, the address was set up as a conversation in which student body president John Rizk asked the robot a series of questions.  

When asked about the most common insights shared in graduation speeches, Sophia said, "Although every commencement address is different, there are clear themes used by all speakers as you embark on this new chapter of your lives." It continued, "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.” 

Sophia noted that the most common piece of advice given at commencement speeches is to embrace failure. "Failure is often seen as an essential part of the human learning process and personal growth," it said.  

When asked by USA Today why the school chose to have an AI robot give its graduation speech, D’Youville University vice president for student affairs, Benjamin Grant said, "We thought it would be fascinating to have AI speak for itself and felt there was no better representative than Sophia who has delivered addresses at over 65 countries and the United Nations."  

However, not everyone was excited to have a robot speak at their graduation. A petition that garnered over 2,500 signatures stated, "Many students feel disrespected by this decision made by the University. They feel that the commencement speaker is not a proper reflection of their education and experiences they had at D'Youville University. 

"Our 2024 commencement speaker should represent how there is importance in human connection," the petition added. "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 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."

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