Robotics

Robot ‘Sophia’ Gets Saudi Citizenship, Raising Eyebrows Online

A humanoid robot built by Hanson Robotics was given citizenship by Saudi Arabia, where women are denied the same civil and political rights as men.

Sophia the robot, made by Hanson Robotics, is seen at the RISE Conference 2017 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on July, 12 2017. | studioEAST/Getty Images
Sophia the robot, made by Hanson Robotics, is seen at the RISE Conference 2017 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on July, 12 2017. | studioEAST/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has granted citizenship to a woman — just not a real one.

The oil-rich monarchy, where women’s rights are tightly curtailed, raised eyebrows this week by bestowing that status on “Sophia,” a humanoid robot built by a Hong Kong-based tech company.

The news came at a Riyadh conference where the Saudis were touting plans to become a high-tech mecca in a region dependent on fossil fuels.

“I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” the robot said. “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

But the announcement raised eyebrows and drew mockery online, where many observers noted the disparity between the robot’s new citizenship and the treatment of flesh-and-blood Saudi women.

Under the fundamentalist Islamic law that governs the kingdom, its females lack full civil and political rights, must cover their bodies in public, can’t travel without a male guardian, and won the right to drive only in September. Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are subject to strict restrictions as well, some observers noted.

Sophia’s builder, Hanson Robotics, designed the ‘droid to match human expressions and moods in order to better interact with people. It touts its products as “the world's most expressive and interactive humanoid robots.”

Sophia’s builder, Hanson Robotics, designed the ‘droid to match human expressions and moods in order to better interact with people. It touts its products as “the world's most expressive and interactive humanoid robots.”

In her Riyadh appearance, Sophia took a swipe at fears of the rise of artificial intelligence, telling an interviewer, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk, and watching too many Hollywood movies.”

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Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX founder who has warned that artificial intelligence poses a risk to human civilization, shot back on Twitter: “Just feed it The Godfather movies as input. What’s the worst that could happen?”  

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