Saudi Arabia, a country where women don’t have equal rights as men and where women are considered to be second-class citizens has granted Sophia, a humanoid robot, the citizenship of the country. Saudi Arabia has become the first country to grant citizenship to a female robot on 25th October at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference summit held in the kingdom’s capital city of Riyadh in front of hundreds of delegates.
Sophia is an artificial intelligence powered robot created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong. The humanoid robot modeled after the late British actress and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn is designed to adapt to human behavior, respond to questions, imitate human gestures, facial expressions and help in elderly care facilities.
Moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin, a columnist for the New York Times and CNBC Squawk Box anchor has made the announcement of Sophia’s citizenship at the FII conference.
Sorkin started like this: “We have a little announcement”. “We just learned, Sophia; I hope you are listening to me, you have been awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot.”
Responding to this, Sophia made a speech by saying, “Thank you to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” “I am very honored and proud of this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.”
The event continued with a prolonged conversation with Sophia where she answered all the questions wittily. When asked whether robots can be conscious and self-aware, Sophia responded by saying, “Well let me ask you this back, how do you know you are human? I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life; design smarter homes, build better cities of the future. I will do my best to make the world a better place. I strive to become an empathetic robot.”
She continued saying, “I want to live and work with humans, so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people.”
Concerned about the robot behavior, the CNBC interviewer said that “we all want to prevent a bad future.” She answered wittily saying, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. My AI is designed around human values like wisdom, kindness, and compassion. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”
Although everyone’s impressed with the AI-powered robot, Sophia, the announcement of its citizenship has made the public speak out that the robot has more rights than the country’s women. The Twitterati took a sarcastic tone by posting images of Sophia with abaya and questioning how come she is presented to the audience without a male guardian and a customary headscarf or abaya(a traditional cloak which Saudi women are obliged to wear in public).
Saudi Arabia has been investing in technology especially robots lately. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth arm and Japan’s SoftBank announced that it had closed $93 billion which is expected to be the largest technology investment fund ever. SoftBank had previously released Pepper, a first humanoid robot capable of recognizing the principal human emotions and adapting his behavior to the mood of his interlocutor. The country has also announced that it will pump $500 billion to build a city called NEOM, which will feature large number of robots(to do repetitive tasks) and renewables in a 26,500 square kilometers span area, stretching across the borders of northwest Saudi Arabia into Jordan and Egypt.