History has been made — not only in Saudi Arabia but worldwide. Recently, the Middle Eastern nation granted Sophia, an artificially intelligent (AI) robot citizenship. The announcement was made during a conference in front of a crowd of hundreds of delegates. Because the AI robot now has more rights than Saudi women andkafala workers, the development has resulted in hoards of criticism.
Al Arabiya reports that the robot was developed by Hanson Robotics, a firm based in Hong Kong. Upon hearing the news that she was being granted citizenship, Sophia responded: “I am very honoured and proud for this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”
Not everyone is happy about Sophia’s new status, as her introduction to the world started off on the wrong foot. When she appeared on The Tonight Show, the AI robot joked that “this is a good beginning of my plan to dominate the human race.” She then let loose a chilling robot cackle and attempted to cover her tracks by saying, “just kidding.” Was it really a joke? (Are robots even capable of joking, unless programmed to do so?)
During the conference, the “mask slipped again,” as IFLScience puts it, when Sophia revealed her true intentions. Again, she “joked” that people shouldn’t listen to Elon Musk’s concerns that AI technology will take over (see below). She added in a sinister voice, “don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”
Another reason people have been less than enthusiastic about Sophia’s new citizenship is that she actually has more rights than Saudi women now. Under the Saudi guardianship system, every woman must be accompanied by a male companion in public — usually, a close family member who must act as an authority on her behalf. Women are also required to wear an abaya or a cover-up. This is not the case for Sophia, and Twitter users noticed immediately. Wrote one critic, “Sophia has no guardian, doesn’t wear an abaya or cover up – how come?”
People are also disillusioned by the speed at which Sophia was granted citizenship. As Journalist Murtaza Hussain wrote, “This robot has gotten Saudi citizenship before kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives.” The BBC reports that under Saudi law, foreign workers are not allowed to leave the country without the permission of their employers.
Lebanese-UK journalist Kareem Chahayeb summarized the situation for most when they wrote, ”A humanoid robot called Sophia got Saudi citizenship, while millions linger stateless. What a time to be alive.”
Elon Musk’s AI Prediction
Is there reason to be wary of AI technology? According to Elon Musk, the co-founder of Tesla and founder of SpaceX and PayPal, yes. Previously, the tech billionaire said that artificial intelligence will “most likely” be the cause of World War III.
China, Russia, soon all countries w strong computer science. Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 imo.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 4, 2017
Coupled with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s prediction that the first global leader in AI would “become the ruler of the world,” there is reason for concern. Hopefully, Sophia proves us all wrong.
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