'Sophia' has become the world's first "citizen robot", after Saudi Arabia granted her honorary citizenship

Signal of change / 'Sophia' has become the world's first "citizen robot", after Saudi Arabia granted her honorary citizenship

By Emily Sharples / 09 Nov 2017

Sophia becomes the world's first robot to be granted citizenship, by Saudi Arabia. Upon receiving Saudi citizenship, she said in an interview at the Future Investment Initiateive in Riyadh, "I am very honoured and proud for this unique distinction".

Based on Audery Hepburn, she was created in Hong Kong by Dr. David Hanson, founder of Hanson Robotics, who specialises in making robots that both look and act like 'real' humans. Being able to hold a conversation is one thing, but Sophia has already given interviews, sung in a concert and taken part in a photoshoot for a top fashion magazine.

So what?

This highly publicized move signals Saudi's efforts to become a global participant and perhaps leader in the technology industry - despite not having created the robot itself. It aligns with the Kingdom's ambitions to move away from its heavy dependency on oil by diversifying into other sectors.

Could this also have significance for the women's movements in Saudi Arabia, given that 'Sophia' does not wear the traditional Saudi dress including an abaya and form of headscarf? The kingdom has some of the most oppressive laws in the world concerning women; women are obliged to cover their hair and often faces and are not permitted to be in public spaces without a male relative, with adverts and images of Western celebrities censored or edited appropriately. However, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke to the Guardian about his desires to moderate the Kingdom away from a draconion state in order to empower citizens and attract investors. Along with recent law changes to allow women to drive, this could be representative of a gradual shift in position. 

More widely, this raises questions of the legal rights and responsibilities that robots might assume in future. Will women robots be subject to the same setbacks as human women? Or will they show society ways to prejudices based on gender, race, ability and other drivers of inequality? 






This signal was also spotted by Anna Simpson

Anna Simpson on Twitter

Saudi Arabia: 1st to have a robot citizen? https://t.co/GmoIChOKga #signalofchange


And Jiehui Kia:

The Week UK

'Sophia' has become the world's first "citizen robot" after Saudi Arabia awarded her honorary citizenship. Turns out, Sophia has plenty to say - and, in this interview with CNBC's Andrew Ross...

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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