Saudi Arabia has become the first country in the world to award a robot with citizenship. No, your eyes are not deceiving you, a robot was awarded citizenship in a country renowned for its ill-treatment of workers. “I am very honoured and proud of this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship," Sophia announced at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia. Sophia also responded to questions from moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin which mainly dealt with her status as a humanoid and worries about the future of a robot-run world.
Sophia had enough wit to lightheartedly fend off the worries saying, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Holly wood movies. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”
Musk is remembered for arguing, “AI (Artificial intelligence) is the rare case where I think we need to be proactive in regulation instead of reactive. Because I think by the time we are reactive in AI regulation, it’ll be too late. AI is a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation.”
The idea of AI going rogue and entrapping the human race in a crisis of its own making are not new. Dr. Ian Pearson, a futurologist says, “Everybody in AI is very familiar with this idea – they call it the Terminator scenario.” For her part, Sophia has threatened to destroy humans before and we would not trust her too much with our lives!
However, on the occasion of her announcement of citizenship, Sophia said she wanted to do her best to help humans live better lives. She also said, “I want to live and work with humans so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people.”
However, far from the scientific worries around artificial intelligence is a more contentious issue of human rights. Journalist Murtaza Hussain after the announcement of Sophia’s citizenship tellingly commented, “This robot has gotten Saudi citizenship before kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives.”
Kareem Chahayeb, U.K-Lebanese journalist also said, “A humanoid robot called Sophia got Saudi citizenship, while millions linger stateless. What a time to be alive.”
Human Rights Watch says, “Saudi Arabia's restrictive kafala (visa-sponsorship) system, which ties migrant workers’ legal residency to their employers, grants employers’ excessive power over workers and facilitates abuse. Over the past decade, Human Rights Watch has documented rampant employer abuses of migrant workers, including forcing them to work against their will or on exploitative terms.”
It is in this country where basic human rights are in doubt that robots are getting rights! It is an irony of ages.
To add insult to injury, Saudi Arabia is a country that ignores women’s rights but only if those women are human. Once they are fictitious and robotic, Saudi Arabia becomes a champion of rights. Women were only allowed to drive last month and will start going into stadiums next year but this robot which resembles women yet walks about
“It hit a sore spot that a robot has citizenship and my daughter doesn’t,” said Hadeel Shaikh, a Saudi woman whose four-year-old child with a Lebanese man does not have citizenship.
Saudi Arabia has exposed itself. Sophia’s citizenship has dragged hidden skeletons to the front porch. It is only in Saudi Arabia that a machine can have more rights than human beings.