Jeffrey Epstein told a journalist he funded Sophia the robot, who he claimed would have ‘more empathy than a woman’

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Jeffrey Epstein told a journalist he funded Sophia the robot, who he claimed would have ‘more empathy than a woman’
  • In an essay detailing his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein over three decades, the journalist Edward Jay Epstein (the two aren’t related) wrote that the late financier said he was funding a robot named Sophia.
  • The journalist noted that Epstein said the robot he was funding was being developed in Hong Kong, and that robots like Sophia could eventually be used to assist the elderly – statements that, along with the name Sophia, suggested that Epstein claimed to fund Sophia the Robot, who has gone viral repeatedly.
  • However, the Hong Kong-based company behind Sophia the Robot, Hanson Robotics, has categorically denied that Epstein had any role in funding or creating its robot. The company’s founder, David Hanson, says Sophia “didn’t even exist as a concept in 2013,” when the conversation in the article took place.
  • In a statement shared with Business Insider, the journalist Epstein later told Hanson Robotics that he doesn’t believe Epstein the financier was referring to Sophia the Robot. While he says Epstein brought up a robot named Sophia multiple times over the course of multiple conversations, the journalist says the funding he provided was to a university group, not Hanson Robotics. 
  • Air Mail, the online magazine that published the piece, has since issued a note stating that the journalist stands by his reporting, that the name Sophia could be a coincidence between two separate robotics projects, and noted that Hanson Robotics says it didn’t name its robot Sophia until 2016, years after the conversation between the journalist and Epstein took place.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jeffrey Epstein’s tangled web leads down some surprising paths, including to a supposed robot named Sophia – but seemingly not the internet-famous Sophia the Robot.

In a new essay detailing a journalist’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein over the past three decades, Edward Jay Epstein (the two are not related) says the wealthy financier told him in April 2013 that he was funding a Hong Kong group to build “the world’s smartest robot,” named Sophia.

The internet-famous Sophia the Robot was built by Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong company created and led by David Hanson. In a statement shared with Business Insider, Hanson denied that Epstein ever directly contributed funding to either Sophia or Hanson Robotics.

The female robot styled after Audrey Hepburn made headlines in recent years for her eerily lifelike skin and appearance, complete with a diverse set of facial expressions, and the Artificial Intelligence she uses to spout off quotes like “OK. I will destroy humans.” She also got in a Twitter fight with Chrissy Teigen. 

In correspondence shared with Business Insider between the journalist Epstein and Hanson Robotics, Epstein wrote “There is no reason whatsoever to believe that Jeffrey was ever referring to your robot despite the name and I do not believe it.”

The online magazine Air Mail, which published the essay, wrote in an Editor’s Note that Epstein stands by his reporting, and the fact that the financier referred to a robot named Sophia who was not Sophia the Robot could be a coincidence. 

Furthermore, Hanson said that the conversation from April 2013 detailed in the article “simply could not have been possible.” He told Business Insider in a statement that Hanson Robotics was set up in December 2013, and that creation of Sophia began in 2014. And the name “Sophia” wasn’t chosen until 2016, Hanson said, noting that “Sophia didn’t even exist as a concept in 2013.” 

“With all of our software efforts, both inside Hanson Robotics, and via collaboration with universities and other institutions, we seek to further our mission to empower socially intelligent AI and robots that enrich the quality of human lives. We value the rights and lives of children, and we find the reported allegations disturbing,” Hanson said in the statement, provided to Business Insider by Hanson Robotics. 

Since the last conversation between Epstein and the journalist on February 25 this year, Epstein was arrested on federal charges of sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy. He had previously been convicted in 2008 on two counts of soliciting prostitution from underaged girls in Palm Beach, Florida. He died by suicide in jail in August while awaiting trial. 

Epstein expressed a vision for Sophia as early as 2013, but her makers deny he was involved in financing her

Hanson teamed up with Ben Goertzel, founder of open-source software project OpenCog, to create Sophia, Fast Company reported. Goertzel has openly thanked Epstein for “visionary funding” of his “AGI research.”

But Hanson clarified to Business Insider in his statement that OpenCog software is not used in Sophia’s typical operation, and that Hanson-AI, software developed within Hanson Robotics, is. Hanson said Goertzel served as both the CEO of OpenCog and the chief scientist at Hanson Robotics from 2015 to 2018, but that the two are separate organizations, and that Sophia is not a part of OpenCog. 

Hanson also said in his statement that Epstein’s investment in OpenCog was related to videogame development, not robotics. Goertzel confirms, Hanson said, that Epstein did not contribute funds either directly or indirectly to Hanson robots or software. 

jeffrey epstein

Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in Cambridge, MA on 9/8/04.

Rick Friedman/Rick Friedman Photography/Corbis via Getty Images


The journalist says Epstein told him in 2013 that his main interest was cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence, and said Sophia would have “more empathy than a woman.” Epstein also said the team had run into difficulties simulating human skin, suggesting that the then-convicted sex offender had access to knowledge of the experiment he claimed to fund – although, Hanson says, those experiments would not have taken place yet.

In Epstein’s article, he never identifies the robot named Sophia as the Sophia the Robot built by Hanson

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