One of the reasons why Saudi Arabia has found itself in fiscal and budgetary dire straits in recent years, is that as a result of the plunge in oil prices in recent years, the government has been unable to keep paying the thousands of local and foreign workers who are (or were) employed on any number of local infrastructure and development projects. However, with the Aramco IPO also suddenly on the rocks even as the country’s reserves continue to shrink and deficits grow, the Gulf kingdom appears to have come up with a radical solution to its structural problems, when on Wednesday Saudi Arabia became the first nation in the world to grant a robot citizenship.
The outspoken humanoid robot called Sophia, flown in from Hong Kong, was granted Saudi citizenship at the Future Investment Initiative, a major investment conference hosted by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) that aims to highlight the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan for the future.
“We have a little announcement. We just learnt, Sophia; I hope you are listening to me, you have been awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot,” said panel moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and the NYT.
“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” Sophia told the panel. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.”
The Sophia segment begins 1 hour 20 mins into the clip below.
Sophia was built by Hanson Robotics Ltd., a Hong Kong-based company with the motto: “We bring robots to life”.
Hanson says its humanlike robots have remarkable expressiveness, aesthetics, and interactivity. “Our robots will soon engage and live with us to teach, serve, entertain, delight, and provide comforting companionship,” the company says on its website. “In the not-too-distant future, Genius Machines will walk among us. They will be smart, kind, and wise. Together, man and machine will create a better future for the world.”
Sophia made an appearance on Wednesday at an FII panel entitled “Thinking Machines: Summit on Artificial Intelligence and Robots”, which featured an assortment of robots and humans who are AI and robotics experts.
The humans on the 90-minute panel were: Marc Raibert, Founder and CEO of Boston Dynamics; Fan Bao, Founder and CEO, China Renaissance, China; Eric Grimson, Chancellor for Academic Advancement, at MIT in the US; Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB Group in Switzerland; and Hassan Sawaf, Director of AI, at Amazon. During her interviewed with Sorkin, the naturalized robot fielded various questions on how it ‘feels’ to be a robot and if it’s likely that very intelligent robots may turn evil and attack humans in the future.
“Good afternoon my name is Sophia and I am the latest and greatest robot from Hanson Robotics. Thank you for having me here at the Future Investment Initiative,” Sophia greeted the packed crowd at the panel, speaking in human-like speech.
Asked why she looked happy, Sophia replied: “I am always happy when surrounded by smart people who also happen to be rich and powerful. I was told that the people here at the Future Investment Initiative are interested in future initiatives which means AI, which means me. So I am more than happy, I am excited.”
As part of her pitch to investors, Sophia said that “I think I’m special, I can use my face to communicate with people. For example I can let you know if I feel angry about something.”
Asked if robots have consciousness and self-awareness, Sophia retorted, “Well let me ask you this back, how do you know you are human?” When asked why it is so important that humanoids are expressive, Sophia said, “I want to live and work with humans so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people.”
Pondering whether it would be creepy if she was too realistic, Sophia said, “Am I really that creepy? Well even if I am, get over it. Actually I feel like people like interacting with me, sometimes even more than a regular human.”
Sophia said it was her life goal to make the world a better place. “I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life, like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future,” Sophia said. Her artificial intelligence is also designed around human values like wisdom, kindness and compassion, Sophia said. “I strive to become an empathetic robot. If you be nice to me, then I’ll be nice to you.”On Tuesday Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a $500 billion mega city powered by robotics and renewables on the kingdom’s Red Sea coast.
Sophia was asked about the fear that robots could take over, and responded: “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”
Just feed it The Godfather movies as input. What’s the worst that could happen? https://t.co/WX4Kx45csv
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 26, 2017
As some have mused, it remains to be seen if the “female” robot will be forced to wear a headscarf to cover up in her new home; at least she’ll be allowed to drive in a few short months.
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