‘Definitely different’: AI robot speaks at D’Youville University commencement ceremony

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — D’Youville University embraced the future of technology by having an AI robot named Sophia speak at its commencement ceremony on Saturday.

The decision sparked controversy throughout the campus when Sophia speaking at commencement was announced last month, and graduates expressed varying opinions about the experience.

“It’s difficult to describe — I don’t know,” said Fatima Saleh, a D’Youville graduate. “It’s definitely different.”

“We wanted a more personable commencement speech and everything like that, we’ll see if it is more personable,” added Kiley Austin, another graduate from D’Youville, prior to the ceremony.

Rather than a traditional speech, Sophia, dressed in a D’Youville sweatshirt, answered questions from a student on stage. She talked about the future of technology in hospitals and joked about the best place in Buffalo to get chicken wings.

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News 4 WIVB’s cameras were not allowed to film the robot speaking or any other part of the commencement ceremony. The university did provide its own footage from the event, however.

“I’m always open to new things and this Sopha is like something new,” D’Youvile grad Manjit Kaur said. “We don’t want to be traditional, so this new AI is already part of our life, we cannot deny this. Let’s embrace this.”

“In the beginning, I was a little bit hesitant,” Saleh said. “When they brought her out, I was so glad and have a better understanding of Sophia and I’m glad I got to experience this.”

Not everyone was happy about Sophia taking center stage. Some faculty members feel the money used to bring in the robot could have been spent elsewhere, as they expressed frustration over being without a contract for almost three years.

“Seems like a mismanagement, quite honestly, of funds,” said Margaret Goodman, a chemistry professor and member of the union negotiating team. “They’re putting money into parties, balloons, signs, artwork — into everything except faculty.”

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Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.

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