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

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — D'Youville University embraced the future of technology with an AI robot named Sophia giving a speech at its commencement ceremony Saturday.

The decision sparked campus-wide controversy when Sophia was announced to deliver the commencement speech last month, and graduates expressed mixed opinions about the experience.

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

“We wanted a more personable commencement speech and everything like that, we'll see if it's more personable,” Kelly Austin, another graduate from D'Youville, added before the ceremony.

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

News 4 WIVB cameras were not allowed to film the robot's speech or any other part of the commencement ceremony. However, the university provided its own footage of the event.

“I'm always open to new things and this sofa is like a novelty,” said D'Youvile grad Manjeet Kaur. “We don't want to be traditional, so this new AI is already part of our lives, we can't deny it. Let's embrace it.”

“Initially, I was a bit hesitant,” Saleh said. “When they brought her out, I was very happy and understood Sophia better and I'm glad I got to experience her.”

Not everyone was happy with Sofia taking center stage. Some faculty members believe the money used to bring in the robots could have been better spent elsewhere, as they expressed frustration at not having a contract for nearly three years.

“It looks like a mismanagement of funds, quite frankly,” said Margaret Goodman, a chemistry professor and member of the union's negotiating team. “They're pouring money into parties, balloons, signs, artwork — everything but faculty.”

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Sarah Mankiewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been part of the News4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah Twitter Click here to see more of @SarahMinkewicz and her work.

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