24 May 2018
David Hanson, the CEO of Hanson Robotics, sits down before his ITW keynote to discuss blockchain, mesh networking AI and the role of telecoms in future technologies
What do Will Smith, Jimmy Fallon, Piers Morgan, and United
Nations deputy secretary-general Amina J Mohammed all have in
common? They have all interviewed Sophia the Robot, this
year’s keynote speaker at ITW.
Last night, as I’m sure many of you saw, Sophia
and her creator Dr. David Hanson, the CEO of Hanson Robotics,
sat down on stage in the Regency Ballroom to take part in this
year’s ITW keynote. This followed an afternoon
meeting with the Global Leaders’ Forum (GLF),
where the enthusiasm for the amazing creation of Sophia was
clear, and not just from Hanson.
Once he’s spoken passionately about future
technology with the GLF, I sit down with the robotics expert to
get his view on telecoms and technology.
He says: "I get excited by talking about the issues because
it is a chance to explore them further. When I’m
travelling around I think about these things all the time and
talking is a good chance to explore these is important
Sophia is being moved to the room where she’ll
do the keynote as we talk, and I ask Hanson about the
computational and connective power needed to keep a robot that
can display more than 50 individual expressions working.
His answer surprises me. He says she isn’t
connected to the internet at the moment, meaning she only
requires a small amount of computational power (1MB) although
this limits her interactivity.
"When Sophia is not connected to the internet she can answer
questions and interact just fine, but when she does have a
connection, she can provide much deeper set of answers, running
with our MindCloud AI service," he says.
The data she is managing now includes camera data, 3D sensor
data and microphone data, plus a lot controlling her motor
functions "but it is something less than a megabit right
For achieving 'human levels’ of performance and
interaction in the real world it will require "considerably
more" data, says Hanson. "You’d have a vast amount
of surface sensor data and the tactile data becomes very
important. Right now, her tactile data is very limited but we
will be adding a lot more of those kinds of sensors in the
future. Some of that can be processed locally.
We’re seeing much better vision processing and
deep learning that you can do on graphics cards in real-time
and dedicated machine vision and learning modules and
"However, I can imagine for human level intelligent
performance, for the kind of learning you need,
you’d be looking at a minimum of 20Mb –
we expect that if we have more powerful local processing, such
as mobile computing, you might only need to send a few Mbps to
the cloud network."
This is where he gets excited. It seems to be discussing
newer, more cutting edge technologies that thrills Hanson, who
moves onto mesh computing.
"You can also load balance some of that processing against
mobile devices and other small connected, IoT devices. If we
consider that we may be able to utilise a mesh network of
phones and other mobile computing devices and, through machine
learning, be able to pick up data, you would decrease the loads
on the cell towers and other networks.
"You could also take the resulting machine-to-machine models
and share those with the cloud, so you don’t have
to share the raw data but the resulting, interpreted
That is going to reduce the load on the networks enormously
– meaning networks could be directed to supporting
other functions. Once machines get smart, he adds, they can do
more with less data.
The impact of artificial intelligence on future
communications networks will be huge, Hanson expects. AI will
help telcos to create more robust networks through adaptive
problem solving and this kind of product is already being
tested on some networks. Data analytics mixed with AI can also
help networks become more agile and more reliable.
Another area of passion for Hanson is blockchain, itself a
topic that you’re going to be seeing a lot about
in the next few days. Part of that is down to the GLF. Capacity
announced in March that Colt and PCCW Global have started
trials to see how blockchain can speed up time for
inter-carrier settlements and make them more reliable. The
proofs of concept they have carried out so far indicate that
blockchain can cut inter-carrier settlement times from hours to
Hanson himself has history with blockchain, too. Hanson and
Ben Goertzal, the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics, have
developed SingularityNET - an ambitious project to create a
decentralised marketplace for AI.
It has received notable backing in a token sale last year.
In around 60 seconds after opening the sale to the public, it
sold out of the whole amount of available tokens bringing the
total raised to $36 million.
Goertzal is well-known in this sector, having coined the
term "Artificial General Intelligence" and developed open
source architecture OpenCog.
Hanson says: "The idea of smart contracts can allow people
to opt-in in ways that wind up being more beneficial and
verifiable. So if the technology is used well it can be of
great social benefit and of benefit to businesses. Smart
contracts are of great interest within the blockchain.
"We came up with this idea of SingularityNet which
snowballed. In its own foundation we spun this out –
Ben Goertzel – who is a famous AI researcher who
coined the term Artificial General Intelligence and has been
working on this problem for 30 years. He developed an open
source architecture for pursuing artificial general
intelligence called OpenCog. The concept is that it is not just
one framework or even one approach that will result in great
"We see this as a first application in order to integrate
other AI systens and create an open market place for AI
The concept is like a highway, with the road itself a free
route, but there may be some tollgates here and there, with
proprietary intellectual property that is integrated. "You have
a tool for integrating tha," adds Hanson, "but by putting
pieces together you create a huge global toolkit for assembling
AI technologies into different configurations so you can
experiment faster, develop products faster and get them to
market faster, develop fundamental R&D faster –
this is the idea of SingularityNet."
So how does this impact telecoms and wholesale? "Scale
becomes really important," he adds. "Tools available in
telecoms are essential to the future of these things because
they are already scaled.
"Designing these tools so that they can scale through
telecommunications becomes instrumental. The telecoms industry
provides an optimised balance between power and price and that
is where the real world implications spring forth. The ideas
are great but they are only relevant when they hit the real
For Hanson, telecoms will play a key role in supporting an
Ai-powered future. But it will also benefit from this kind of
next-gen technology. I ask him if telecoms is one of the
quicker industry’s at adopting this.
He pauses. "My impression is that telecommunications will
adopt a technology once it is proven and scaled. Then the
industry will adopt it like wildfire. Passing through that gate
can be somewhat complicated. The computing you have in a mobile
device has been in a very competitive space."