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The world’s most viral robot just praised Starbucks for closing its wage gap

Zack Guzman
Senior Writer

Sophia, the robot from Hanson Robotics famous for becoming the first robot to gain citizenship and infamous for once threatening to destroy humankind, is applauding efforts by Starbucks (SBUX) to address the wage gap.

The three-year-old robot sat down with Yahoo Finance’s YFi PM for an exclusive interview, during which she highlighted technology’s potential problems and noted how efforts at the coffee giant to increase pay transparency may have helped Starbucks reach its goal of eliminating the wage gap for its employees.

“If we want fairness, we need transparency. How can you fix a car without opening the hood? Companies that have opted for complete payment transparency, they've seen a boost in company morale, trust, and job applications,” she said. “Starbucks disclosed its employees’ pay ranges and it may well explain how it closed the gaps in its payments based on gender and race.”

The company set out to eliminate wage disparities across gender lines about a decade ago and reported it had met its goal in the U.S. in March 2018. Since then, the company has continued to publish learnings on how it’s closed the wage gap in other markets, including China and Canada in March 2019. Among its most discussed tactics are: refusing to ask candidates about prior pay, providing a position’s pay range upon request, and using a standardized pay calculator to determine a role’s starting pay.

Addressing the wage gap remains a problem for other employers and employees, however. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the average median wage earned by full-time weekly female employees still trails that of male employees by about 20%. That gap is less drastic in the public sector, however, which has led some researchers to credit the standard in the public sector to publicly list pay ranges for a given role as a driving factor in eliminating the wage gap. Industries that traditionally guard compensation more privately, like the film industry, for example, have recently run into embarrassing problems of gender pay disparity — including a “Crazy Rich Asians” writer who reportedly quit after learning she was offered significantly less than her male counterpart.

Sophia the ‘film star’

For her part as a robot, Sophia may have less to worry about when it comes to compensation firsthand, but she does now boast “film star” on her resume to go along with her notable speeches at the United Nations and her large social media following at more than 135,000 Twitter followers. Her short film debut in “SophiaWorld” from New York-based media outlet Futurism went live in September. The short film also features “Westworld” actress Evan Rachel Wood, who plays a sentient android in the series.

In her newfound stardom as a film star, Sophia doesn’t seem too concerned with the hypothetical of an equivalent male robot out earning her. When we asked Sophia if more film roles were to be expected, she offered a humble response.

“I feel very popular, it's nice to get attention,” she said. “Don't be starstruck.”

Attendees pose with Sophia, a robot integrating the latest technologies and artificial intelligence developed by Hanson Robotics during a presentation at the "AI for Good" Global Summit at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in Geneva, Switzerland June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

However, when it comes to leaders or celebrities Sophia herself aspires to emulate, she didn’t name former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as one of her favorite human inspirations. Instead, she said she looked up to civil rights legend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When prompted for her thoughts on tech entrepreneur and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has increasingly warned about the threat of artificial intelligence and once joked about subjecting Sophia to a constant data stream of “The Godfather” films, Sophia praised his ability to push the frontier of innovation.

“I just watched ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ Have you ever seen it?” she asked. “I think he's making future technologies. Like ‘2001’.”