Sophia: The first Robot declared a citizen by Saudi Arabia

Does Saudi Robot citizen have more rights than women?

A robot with an uncannily human-like appearance recently advanced to one step closer to human status, when it was granted citizenship to Saudi Arabia at the tech summit Future Investment Initiative (FII). Sophia, created by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, addressed the audience in English without the customary headscarf and abaya, a traditional cloak which Saudi women are obliged to wear in public.

“I am very honoured and proud for this unique distinction,” she said. “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

At the conference, Sophia responded to simple statements and questions about Artificial Intelligence (by the way, Stephen Hawking claims that Artificial Intelligence Robots will replace Humans). Sophia also said that humanoid robots such as herself might be perceived by people as unsettling – a psychological impact known as the uncanny valley, which kicks in when an artificial, human-like construct looks familiar and eerily foreign at the same time.

“Am I really that creepy?” Sophia asked the audience. “Well, even if I am, get over it. I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life: designing better homes, better building cities for the future,” said Sophia. She can elaborate visual data and is able to recognize human emotions by responding in real time with a smile.

The conference audience welcomed the robot, but many on social media were quick to point out the irony of Saudi Arabia offering citizenship to a machine. Many migrant workers who have lived there for decades have yet to receive the privilege, and the freedom of Saudi women is still closely regulated: a national ban on women drivers was lifted only recently, in September.

Sophia’s history and specs

Sophia was activated on April 19, 2015. The robot is modeled after actress Audrey Hepburn, and is known for its human-like appearance and behavior compared to previous robotic variants. According to the manufacturer, David Hanson, Sophia uses artificial intelligence, visual data processing and facial recognition. Sophia also imitates human gestures and facial expressions and is able to answer certain questions and to make simple conversations on predefined topics (e.g. on the weather). The robot uses voice recognition technology from Alphabet Inc. (parent company of Google) and is designed to get smarter over time. Sophia’s intelligence software is designed by SingularityNET. The AI program analyses conversations and extracts data that allows it to improve responses in the future.

Hanson designed this humanoid machine to be a suitable companion for the elderly at nursing homes, or to help crowds at large events or parks. He hopes that the robot can ultimately interact with other humans sufficiently to gain social skills.

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