by Andrea Doyle | November 07, 2018

The speakers featured at DePauw University's Timothy and Sharon Ubben lecture series are impressive: Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Bill Clinton and Jane Goodall, to name a few. But with the bar set high, this February's speaker exceeded attendees' expectations -- and she wasn't even human.

With long, fluttery eyelashes and expressive eyes, Sophia, the robot, who could easily be mistaken for a living and breathing woman, if not for the metal cap of her head, captured the attention of the packed auditorium in Greencastle, Ind., where more than 1,450 were in attendance.

"Born" in Hong Kong on Feb. 14, 2016, Sophia, Hanson Robotics' most advanced humanoid creation, exists through a combination of innovations in robotics, AI and artistry. She maintains eye contact, blinks, follows conversations and moves her arms to mimic gestures humans make while talking.

"It was amazing to watch Sophia simulate a full range of facial expressions, track and recognize faces, empathize with emotions, hold conversations with people and answer their questions," says Ken Owen, special adviser to the president of DePauw University, who is responsible for booking the speakers and managing the lecture series. "It was like taking a sneak peek into the future."

Owen admits that in some ways, Sophia is a work in progress. "I compare it to Henry Ford dreaming up the car and rolling out something that looks like a car but isn't really road ready."

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