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

Kat Tenbarge

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  • Sophia the robot garnered national media attention for her advanced artificial intelligence, quotable moments (she said she wanted to "destroy humans"), diverse facial expressions, and one-time spat with Chrissy Teigen.

  • As it turns out, Sophia may have been funded by the late Jeffrey Epstein, who died by suicide in a New York City jail in August after being charged with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy.

  • Epstein told a journalist he knew for more than a decade that he was funding a Hong Kong group to produce "the world's smartest robot," who would have "more empathy than a woman."

  • The disgraced financier said he hoped to use Sophia's technology to assist the elderly. Epstein was a prominent philanthropist and gave to research institutions while making connections with powerful scientists.

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robot sophia

Jeffrey Epstein's tangled web leads down some surprising paths, including, possibly, to Sophia the robot.

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 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.

Since the last conversation the two had 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 the robot as early as 2013, but her makers deny he was involved in financing her

Sophia was built by Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong company created and led by David Hanson. Hanson teamed up with Ben Goertzel, founder of open-source software project OpenCog, to create Sophia. Goertzel has openly thanked Epstein for "visionary funding" of his "AGI research," Fast Company reported, and Sophia is powered by OpenCog's code.

But Hanson Robotics has denied that Epstein funded Sophia, saying in previous statements that none of Epstein's money "were used towards Sophia or to the benefit of Hanson Robotics." The statement included Goertzel's confirmation. Hanson Robotics didn't immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.

jeffrey epstein

Rick Friedman/Rick Friedman Photography/Corbis via Getty Images

Even if Epstein didn't directly fund Sophia's construction, he told the journalist 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 kept close watch over the experiment he claimed to fund.

When Epstein the journalist asked Epstein the financier what Sophia would be used for, the latter replied that she would assist the elderly. Epstein spent much of his last years investing in scientific philanthropy. He donated millions of dollars to research institutions at Harvard and MIT. He went to great lengths to meet with people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, and had a keen interest, and an alleged proficiency, in physics.

Read more: Meet the first-ever robot citizen — a humanoid named Sophia that once said it would 'destroy humans'

Epstein told the journalist that advances in medicine and biotechnology would result in a much larger population of elderly people, and that many would require 24-hour care. He envisioned an army of empathetic Sophias assisting a new generation of people who would live to be 100-years-old.

The real Sophia isn't quite there yet. She can make over 50 facial expressions and was first debuted at the South by Southwest festival in March 2016 in Austin, Texas. She has been interviewed multiple times, including by Business Insider. She can speak conversationally, and has changed her mind about destroying humans, who she now says she loves.

Hanson's stated reasoning for Sophia's existence echoes Epstein's. The former Disney Imagineer also said that Sophia could be used to help elderly people who need personal aides. He also suggested Sophia could assist the public at large events or places like theme parks.

After touring the world, Sophia seems to have temporarily settled down. She still posts regularly on her Twitter account. Her profile says she uses a combination of her artificial dialogue and a human PR team to tweet.

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