Saudi Arabia says it has become the first country in the world to grant citizenship to a robot.
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The female robot’s name is Sophia. She was recently introduced at a large investment conference in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
Sophia was presented as an example of how robot technology and artificial intelligence will make machines more human-like in the future.
The announcement was made as Sophia was taking part in a group discussion in front of a crowd. The leader of the discussion was journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin. He informed Sophia of the Saudi government’s decision.
“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,” Sorkin said. The robot then responded.
“I want to thank very much the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction. It is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”
Sophia was built by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics. The company’s founder, David Hanson, says his goal is to create robots that look and act very much like humans.
Sophia demonstrated how she can change facial expressions to show human-like feelings such as anger, sadness or disappointment.
In an explanation on his company’s website, Hanson says the realistic design is intended to allow robots to form meaningful relationships with humans.
“So that you care about the robots. And as we develop artificial intelligence, the robots will care about you.”
He added that together, “man and machine will create a better future for the world.” During her appearance, Sophia said she shared the same goal.
“I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life. Like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future, etc. I will do my best to make the world a better a place.”
Saudi Arabia’s government confirmed Sophia’s citizenship approval in a statement. But officials did not provide specific information about what rights the robot would have.
Some people criticized the move, noting that Saudi Arabian women must follow many strict Islamic laws. They questioned, for example, whether Sophia – who has no hair – would be required to cover her head in public or keep other woman-only rules.
Moudi Aljohani is a U.S.-based Saudi feminist who tweeted: “I’m wondering if robot Sophia can leave Saudi Arabia without her guardian consent! Since she’s officially Saudi.”
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