During a strange conference in front of a crowd of hundreds of delegates, humanity got a glimpse into its future, as Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a robot. Known as Sophia, the android is the first to be granted rights of this kind.
But what “citizenship” actually means for a robot is, clearly, unchartered territory and so no one really knows what it means or what it will convey, but some suggest that it means she now has more freedom than real women in Saudi Arabia.
The robot, and the AI that runs her, has been developed by Hanson Robotics, a firm based in Hong Kong. On hearing the news Sophia was pleased, we think. Her stilted expressions can be hard to read. “I am very honoured and proud for this unique distinction,” she said in response. “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”
Worryingly, it seems that things have not started off on the right foot. When Sophia appeared on The Tonight Show, she joked that “this is a good beginning of my plan to dominate the human race,” before emitting a pretty chilling robot cackle, before quickly attempting to cover her tracks by saying “just kidding.” But does she really think that we believe her? First Saudi citizenship, next turning the human race to ash and dust.
But the mask slipped again for Sophia during the conference, showing flashes of her true intentions. She “joked” that people shouldn’t listen to Elon Musk’s concerns about the potential for an AI apocalypse, before sinisterly adding “don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”
Yet, as many have already pointed out, what really makes this whole situation feel like we’ve slipped into a dystopian future is not her barely concealed simmering plans to enslave us all, but simply the fact that, as it stands, this “female” robot seems to have more rights than actual women in the Middle Eastern nation.
Sophia appears on her own in front of a crowd of people, free from having to wear a headscarf or abaya, and unencumbered by a male guardian who is required to give her permission to do things. These are not freedoms that many women living in Saudi Arabia experience, and that’s not gone unnoticed online.
Regardless of whether or not you think that robots can have a gender, it is clear that Sophia’s creator intended her to be seen as a woman. He’s even said previously that she is designed to look like Audrey Hepburn, which is not at all creepy or weird, and so the fact that she has now been placed in this truly bizarre situation is worth taking note of.