For the first time in 30 years, the 2019 Academy Awards was hostless. It seemed like no one in Hollywood wanted the gig of hosting the biggest show in the entertainment industry. Perhaps, it’s time to look at other types of hosts? Like an Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered robot? With the rapid advances in Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU), I believe the idea is not too far-fetched.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the most advanced robots that are already making waves across industries.

In November 2018, China launched the world’s first AI news anchor. Backed by ML, the anchor, speaks, moves and gestures like human news readers. By shelling out USD 39 per month, we can now engage the services of a chatbot psychologist called Woebot. China’s first fully-automated, human-free bank is managed by a robot. Simulative Emotional Expression Robot or SEER, a humanoid, can mimic human expressions and maintain eye contact.

Erica, one of the most advanced humanoids built in Japan, dresses conservatively, speaks politely and is 23 years of age. On the other hand, Sophia of Hanson Robotics has a more outgoing personality. Her face is partly modeled on actor Audrey Hepburn. Both Erica and Sophia interact with humans on several public platforms and answer a plethora of questions.

Existing technology enables robots to deliver a script, tell jokes, smile and make certain gestures. But an Oscar host has to deliver more than just scripted humor on stage. There’s a need for spontaneity. Live interactions like the one where 2014 Oscar host Ellen DeGeneres got the world’s biggest movie stars to huddle for a selfie often get audiences excited and breaks the monotony of a scripted show. Spontaneity is also required to diffuse the situation with an impromptu joke in case there’s an awkward situation (read: the 2017 ‘Best Picture’ award mix-up).

Will humanoids be able to act spontaneously in such situations like humans? To answer this question, let’s flip the coin and look at some of the glitches in this still maturing technology. Facebook had to shut down its AI engine after it was found the AI had developed its own language that could not be understood by humans. Microsoft’s AI chatbot Tay was trained by users to post offensive tweets in less than 24 hours.

While these examples show us the dark side of AI, what it also means is that we have barely scratched the surface in leveraging the potential of AI. They also give us a window into the possibilities of tomorrow with AI-powered robots. So, as the technology matures, humanoids could also become more spontaneous.

The market for AI remains as strong as ever. By 2025, it is expected to touch USD 190.61 Billion. The NLP market is expected to grow to USD 16.07 Billion by 2021 at a CAGR of ~16 percent.

We are not too far away from seeing an AI-powered robot hosting the Oscars. From riffing to dancing, we may soon be looking at a quick-witted robot giving past Oscar hosts a run for their money.

The question now is not really ‘if.’ It’s ‘when.’

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