By: Thomas Lewton and Alice McCool
“I DON’T think Homo sapiens-type people will exist in 10 or 20 years’ time,” Getnet Assefa, 31, speculates as he gazes into the reconstructed eye sockets of Lucy, one of the oldest and most famous hominid skeletons known, at the National Museum of Ethiopia. “Slowly the biological species will disappear and then we will become a fully synthetic species,” Assefa says.
“Perception, memory, emotion, intelligence, dreams — everything that we value now — will not be there,” he adds.
Assefa is a computer scientist, a futurist, and a utopian — but a pragmatic one at that. He is founder and chief executive of iCog, the first artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Ethiopia, and a stone’s throw from the home of Lucy. iCog Labs launched in 2013 with $50,000 and just four programmers. Today, halfway up an unassuming tower block, dozens of software developers type in silence. Their desks are cluttered with electronic components and dismembered robot body parts, from a soccer-playing bot called Abebe to a miniature robo-Einstein. An earlier prototype of Sophia, a widely recognized humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics (she appeared with late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon last year) is here too. Arguably the world’s most famous robot of her kind, Sophia’s software was partly developed here in Ethiopia’s capital.