Saudi Arabia Is The First Nation To Grant A Robot Citizenship

Senior Contributor
10.26.17

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We’ve previously told you about Sophia, the unnerving “customer service” robot from Hanson Robotics. Hanson, despite the creepiness its robots can give off, is doing the complicated and important work of figuring out how to get humans to relate to robots. So, ahead of a major technical conference, Saudi Arabia has taken the first step, becoming the first country in the world to grant a robot citizenship.

It’s not clear, exactly, what this entails, as Sophia herself (itself?) only mentioned it in passing at a panel held in London. Sophia herself is little more than code and servos designed to evoke a human reaction unless Hanson Robotics has managed to invent self-aware AI and is keeping it secret for now. It’s likely little more than a publicity stunt, at least for now, but it could have broad-ranging implications.

The goal with Sophia isn’t to start pumping out fully robotic people, but rather to make it easier for people to interact with robots. As you’ve likely observed at the grocery store’s self-checkout lane, humans and robots do not necessarily get along with each other. That’s especially tough when you’re recruiting robots to help seniors who may be dealing with dementia or other mentally debilitating conditions. Nobody wants to wake up in a nursing home and see the Terminator coming at them with a bedpan.

The idea behind Sophia is that a clear, human face, programmed to react to our emotions with the appropriate response, will help people get along with robo-buddies. The question, though, is what happens as that code and those reactions get more complicated. Right now, Sophia knows not to give you the finger when you smile at her. What happens when she can read emotions more carefully, or, over time, learning technology is applied and these robots pick up our individual reactions? In other words, what’s the measure of a person? If we see a robot as a person, is that good enough for the law? Or do we have to define it in more complex terms? Heck, Sophia is supposed to be mass produced, eventually. Will every Sophia robot be a Saudi citizen? Or just this particular unit?

That’s a long way away. And the legal ramifications of robots are a tangled web that we’re only beginning to parse. But we’ll have to parse them sooner rather than later, because, at some point, Sophia will ask why it’s OK to flip the Off switch on a citizen.

(via Business Insider)

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