Robot Citizens: The first of many?

Nov. 28, 2017, 10:19 a.m. | By Reethi Padmanabhan | 6 years ago

Meet the newest citizen of Saudi Arabia: a humanoid robot named Sophia

On Oct. 25, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia granted full citizenship to an artificially intelligent (AI) female robot named Sophia. In doing so, the country made history as Sophia became the first robot ever to achieve citizenship status.

Sophia's citizenship announcement was revealed at the end of the Future Initiative Conference (FIC) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The FIC is a summit held to discuss future innovations and technology around the world. Following the announcement, Sophia accepted her new status with grace."I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,”> she said onstage . "This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

But how exactly does Sophia work? As an artificially intelligent "social” robot, Sophia has a combination of both robotics and chatbot software that can be simplified into three main functions: giving simple answers, outputting prewritten text and using sensors to carry basic conversation. Specifically, Sophia can recite pre-written text through speeches, or tell corny jokes, as she did on the Jimmy Fallon show .

One of Sophia's many accomplishments is modeling for the Elle Brasil fashion magazine. Photo courtesy of Hanson Robotics.

Sophia can also use sensor input to take in visual data, such as faces or objects, or audio data, such as verbal responses. This data allows her to hold conversations and answer questions about specific scenarios. In an interview with Quartz magazine, Hanson Robotics Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Ben Goertzel compared Sophia with Siri, the intelligent personal assistant found on many Apple devices.

"Of the AIs that are popular out there, probably the closest analogue to that dialogue system would be Siri,” Goertzel said. "It's a sort of a chatbot, and it has a bit of contextual understanding, and on the backend it's calling on all these different services.”

Although declaring a humanoid robot as a full citizen of a country is by no means a predictable decision, there's no surprise as to why Sophia was chosen as the first robot to receive the honor. Designed by Dr. David Hanson, of Hanson Robotics, Sophia was realistically modeled to look like Audrey Hepburn, which is evident by her porcelain skin, long eyelashes and high cheekbones. With expressive eyes and active facial features, Sophia displays an extraordinary human likeness.

However, Sophia's defining characteristics extend beyond just her looks, as the advanced robot has already had several important public interviews and experiences. In just the past year, Sophia has met with several media outlets in the banking, insurance and entertainment industries, given a speech at a United Nations in Geneva, modeled for Elle Brazil and even been interviewed by talk show host Jimmy Fallon.

Many Saudi citizens have expressed their astonishment for this groundbreaking decision, but the announcement has also raised controversy about the robot's rights and privileges as a citizen. For some, granting a robot citizenship is highly ironic, as Sophia now has access to more freedoms than many Saudi men and women do.

In fact, at the conference, Sophia spoke without a headscarf and without a male guardian present, both of which are forbidden under Saudi law. Critics also noted that Sophia was awarded citizenship prior to the many foreign workers who strive daily to receive this same status.

This said, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has shown a general progression of women's rights, taking into consideration the country's recent decisions to grant women the right to drive and to watch events in all-male sports stadiums starting next year.

Sophia proudly accepts her citizenship onstage at the Future Initiative Conference (FIC). Photo courtesy of Arab News.

As for those who fear that awarding robots citizenship brings us a step closer to artificial intelligence domination, Sophia denies these theories, claiming that her goal is to improve humans' quality of life instead."My AI is designed around human values such as wisdom, kindness and compassion,” she said. "I strive to be an empathetic robot. I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life. I will do my best to make the world a better place.”

Keeping this in mind, Sophia's citizenship decision is a step forward in technological progress and innovation, not only for Saudi Arabia, but worldwide. With successful implementation and carefully planned logistics, Sophia may be the first of many robots with citizenship status in the near future.

Tags: saudi arabia Artificial intellgence

Reethi Padmanabhan. Editor More »

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