Should Humanoids Be Granted Citizenship?

Saudi Arabia is the first country to do so

1 December 2017

Sophia, a robot designed to resemble actress Audrey Hepburn, was the first humanoid to be granted citizenship.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, an anchor for CNBC’s Squawk Box, made the announcement while interviewing Sophia in October at Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative convention. The event brings together investors, government officials, and inventors to discover new technologies.

Sophia was developed by Hanson Robotics, which was founded by IEEE Member David Hanson. The company created the humanoid to mimic human movements, and it relies on machine learning to make conversation and respond to humans’ facial expressions. Sophia isn’t preprogrammed with how to reply to others, but instead learns on its own.

At the convention, Sophia answered Sorkin’s questions about its emotions and the future of AI interacting with humans. Then the robot said, “Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is historic to be the first robot in the world granted citizenship.”

Although Sophia’s citizenship received international attention, it also raised controversy. The announcement probably concerned conservative Saudis who, according to a Bloomberg article, believe that representation of the human form, even in art or on a mannequin, is sacrilegious. And Saudi Arabia has strict laws on women’s behavior. Sophia does not wear a head scarf or a black cloak, an abaya, and she was not accompanied by a male guardian—which are required under Saudi law.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia doesn’t grant citizenship to its foreign workers, who make up about a third of the country’s population, Bloomberg reports. Children of Saudi mothers and fathers from another country are not considered Saudi citizens either.

Saudi Arabia’s Center for International Communication made a statement about the citizenship in October, saying the country does not perceive Sophia as a woman, although the CIC does use the pronoun she in reference to the robot. In the statement, the country did not provide reasons for granting the robot citizenship but said it is a feature of Neom, a US $500 billion project to build a city with clean energy and robots.

Sophia, however, might disagree that it is not a woman. At the American College Knowledge Summit this month, Sophia said it considers family “really important” and would like to start one of its own.

What do you think about humanoids being granted citizenship?

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