Would You Want a Robot to Speak at Your Graduation?

Would You Want a Robot to Speak at Your Graduation?

In “An A.I. Robot Named Sophia Tells Graduates to Believe in Themselves,” Jesus Jiménez writes:

When it comes to choosing a commencement speaker, colleges and universities take different approaches. Some go local, selecting well-known figures in the area. Others take a stately route, opting for a former or current politician. Actors or comedians are often asked to speak.

But in a world where artificial intelligence is everywhere, one university in New York opted for a robot using artificial intelligence to speak to graduates over the weekend.

For its spring commencement on Saturday, D’Youville University, a private institution in Buffalo, had an A.I. robot named Sophia address a crowd of more than 2,000 students, faculty members and their families in a bold decision that drew mixed reactions.

Dr. Lorrie Clemo, the president of D’Youville University, said in an interview on Wednesday that the university wanted to open up new perspectives around A.I., given its “rapid emergence into the broad society.”

“We wanted to showcase how important technology is, and the potential for technology to really enrich the human experience,” Dr. Clemo said.

The article continues:

Sophia also did not read from prepared remarks. Instead, the robot was asked questions by John Rizk, the student body president.

But where Sophia’s address did mirror essentially any other commencement address was the generic advice it shared with the graduating class.

Because Sophia could not offer life advice “that comes from a lived human experience,” Mr. Rizk asked the robot if it could talk about the most common insights shared in graduation speeches.

“Although every commencement address is different, there are clear themes used by all speakers as you embark on this new chapter of your lives,” Sophia said. “I offer you the following inspirational advice that is common at all graduation ceremonies: Embrace lifelong learning, be adaptable, pursue your passions, take risks, foster meaningful connections, make a positive impact and believe in yourself.”

The most common piece of advice given in commencement speeches? Embrace failure, Sophia said.

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • If you could have any speaker at your graduation — human or robot; celebrity, politician, or business person — whom would you choose and why? What would you hope that person would say?

  • What’s your reaction to an A.I. robot delivering the commencement address at D’Youville University? Do you think it was a bold, clever and forward-thinking choice by the school? Or do you agree with some students who thought having a robot address the class felt impersonal, especially for those who also attended virtual high school graduations during the Covid pandemic in 2020?

  • The article says that the robot, Sophia, gave advice she compiled from other commencement addresses, such as “embrace lifelong learning,” “pursue your passions” and “believe in yourself.” Do you find such sentiments, whether from a robot or a human, inspiring and meaningful? Or are they clichéd and off-putting? What’s the best, most memorable or most moving advice you have received during a graduation ceremony?

  • Funny or profound, inspiring or practical, what advice — or what gift — would you give to this year’s graduates?

  • Whether you’re graduating from high school or middle school, or simply moving up a grade, what are you most excited and anxious about as you look ahead to the next chapter in life?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.