Human-like robot Sophia was designed to look like the legendary actress Audrey Hepburn. But she didn’t make the news because of the advanced technology involved, or her “looks”. Robo-Sophia has just become the first AI machine in the world to get… a citizenship.
“Conversing” with a panel moderator at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) tech summit held in Riyadh in October 2017, Sophia herself revealed she had just been granted the citizenship of Saudi Arabia.
What does “robot citizenship” tell about the world today, exactly?
It is still unclear what Sophia’s citizenship might mean for her perso… ahem, robotically. Will she be able to vote or be elected? Take part in the conduct of public affairs? One thing is undeniable: it is the first time an artificial life-form was granted such a status.
Sophia was created by Dr. David Hanson, Hanson Robotics’ founder, who programmed her to display three human traits: creativity, empathy, and compassion.
Replying to one of the questions from the audience at the FII, Sofia stated that she wished “to live and work with humans,” and “to understand humans and build trust with people”.
Sophia’s creator stated that he, together with Saudi Arabia authorities, decided to “let her” stay in a futuristic city where robots are expected to outnumber people. Amazing, isn’t it?
“It is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.”
Well, Sofia’s Saudi citizenship status prompted lots of feedback. As Saudi Arabia is quite regularly criticised for its woeful human rights record and poor treatment of women, many on social media quickly attacked the country, noting how the usually poorly-treated migrant workers who had lived there for decades are yet to receive the same privilege.
US-based Saudi feminist Moudi Aljohani summed up her reaction in the following tweet: “I’m wondering if robot Sophia can leave Saudi Arabia without her guardian consent!”
Such quick development of artificial intelligence, and the subsequent integration of its forms in the human society with its vastly different cultural norms and perception of reality, raises some peculiar, important questions. Will Sophia have the same rights as humans? How long will it be until robots are so prevalent that this kind of stories will no longer be remarkable? Will the idea of Human vs Technology Marvel become a constant struggle in terms of treatment or legislation? We’ll know in time. Soon.
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