Meet Mirai: Shibuya's newest resident. Unlike his neighbors, Mirai isn't human – "he" is a chatbot on the Japanese messaging service, LINE. His residency is believed to be a world first for artificial intelligence (AI) bots.
The news comes a little over a week after Saudi Arabia became the first country to endow citizenship on a robot. Sophia, designed by Hanson Robotics to look like Audrey Hepburn, told audiences she was "honored and proud of this unique distinction". And, yes, this is the very same android who said she would "destroy humans" at last year's SXSW event.
Unlike Sophia, Mirai doesn't have a "body" or a physical presence. Instead, he lives online and exists as part of an initiative to make local government more accessible. Mirai translates to "future" in Japanese and, rather bizarrely, the bot has been designed to behave like a 7-year-old boy.
In a statement with Microsoft, the Shibuya Ward said, "His hobbies are taking pictures and observing people." (Which sounds just a little bit sinister...) And, apparently, he loves to talk. "Please talk to him about anything," the district added.
Shibuya is a ward in Central Tokyo with roughly 224,000 residents. Aside from its shops, nightlife, and Scramble Crossing (possibly the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world), it's known as a center for youth culture. It was the first ward in Japan to recognize same-sex marriage, so it's perhaps not surprising that it's also the first to recognize the rights of artificially intelligent beings by granting Mirai residency.
In this case, it appears to have been done to drum up publicity for a government program but it raises questions about what should be done if we manage to build AI with consciousness.
We don't have the technology yet but scientists say it could be a possibility one day. The last few years have seen huge advances in AI technology – it's now writing horror stories, diagnosing cancer, and even surveilling cities in a way that's slightly reminiscent of Orwell's 1984. And while it's not full-blown consciousness, tests have apparently confirmed AI is capable of at least some semblance of self-awareness.