Saudi Arabia has become the first country to give a robot citizenship. The humanoid produced by Hanson Robotics is called Sophia. The details are not yet known, but speaking at the Future Investment Initiative, the event that brought together investors, leader and visionary entrepreneurs in Riyadh from 24 to 26 October, Sophia said she was 'very honoured and proud for this unique distinction'.
During her speech, Sophia answered some questions pertaining mostly to her status as a humanoid and concerns people may have for the future of humanity in a robot-run world. ‘You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies', the robot joked from the podium, reassuring the audience that she intended to use her Artificial Intelligence 'to help humans live a better life'.
Many commentators view this recognition as part of Saudi Arabia’s project to promote the country to the international community as the AI leading country in the world. (We had already spoken about this here). The most critical commentators have pointed out that while a humanoid has been granted citizenship, the country should be tackling more serious problems connected with the very limited rights granted to human women.
Apart from this controversy, it is striking to see a humanoid interact so naturally in an entirely human environment. Sophia is in good company: SoftBank released the Pepper robot as a prototype in 2014 and as a consumer model a year later. The company sold out its supply of 1,000 robots in less than a minute.