In an unprecedented move, Saudi Arabia announced that it has granted citizenship to a humanoid robot. However, the groundbreaking decision also reaped criticism and raised concerns about the increasing presence of AI in our lives.
The humanoid in question is Sophia, a robot developed by Hanson Robotics, a Hong Kong-based corporation. Her new status as Saudi Arabia’s newest citizen came out during the Future Investment Initiative held in Riyadh this week.
Sophia is the brainchild of inventor David Hanson, who built her in 2015. Aside from being instilled with artificial intelligence, she can recognize faces and copy 62 facial expressions. She has also made the covers of a fashion magazine, starred in a concert and even appeared on comedian and TV show host Jimmy Fallon’s show.
Meet Sophia, the first robot citizen of Saudi Arabia ?? pic.twitter.com/SF7i6xKLqm
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) October 30, 2017
The highlight of her appearance in the investment conference was an on-stage interview where she described herself as the “latest and greatest robot from Hanson Robotics.” This was also where Sophia and the rest of the world found out that she had been awarded the citizenship. The robot thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the historic distinction and said she was honored to be recognized.
The robot also gave some interesting answers to questions about consciousness, self-awareness and her long-term goals. Sophia said that she wants to use her intelligence to make life better for humans, whether it’s thru building better cities or designing smarter homes.
While the announcement of Sophia’s citizenship garnered interest around the world, it also led to a hailstorm of criticism on social media over the irony that a robot apparently has more rights than Saudi’s female citizens. Twitter users quickly pointed out that Sophia has appeared in public without a hijab and without being accompanied by a male guardian, something that Saudi women can’t do. They also cannot interact with males that are not related to them and they don’t get fair representation in their country’s justice system.
— Matt Jabski (@matt_jabski) October 27, 2017
For a country that restricts women’s rights, Saudi Arabia’s move to bestow citizenship to female robot is insulting https://t.co/aikx6ekHd3
— Albert Fong (@albertfong98) October 27, 2017
— Luay al-Khatteeb (@AL_Khatteeb) October 28, 2017
There were also pointed comments on how Saudi doesn’t grant citizenship to its foreign workers, even if they have been working in the country for decades. Children of Saudi women not married to Saudi men are also not allowed to seek citizenship.
Aside from the outcry over Sophia seemingly having more rights than real women in Saudi Arabia, her appearance in the conference also brought to the forefront concerns about the rise of AI and the dangers it might pose on humanity. Sophia tried to waylay these fears and emphasized that she’ll be nice to people if they’re nice to her.