Saudi Arabia grants citizenship to Sophia, the self-aware ROBOT

Saudi Arabia causes uproar after giving citizenship to a robot.

Sophia the humanoid robot has become the first robot to have ever been granted national citizenship. However, what was intended to be a charming gesture by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has caused some unintended consequences with the state being accused of insensitivity and treating a robot more favorably than real human beings.

Sophia, who was created by Hanson Robotics in Hong Kong, was granted official citizenship of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh this week, sparking headlines all over the world. Sophia gave a speech to an assembled crowd in which she said, “I am very honored and proud of this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.”


Sophia also explained that she wanted to make a positive contribution to the country which offered her citizenship, “I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life, like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future, ” she said. “I strive to become an empathetic robot. If you be nice to me, then I’ll be nice to you.” When she was informed that some people found her ‘creepy,’ the robot responded, “Am I that creepy? Well, even if I am, get over it.”

Granting Sophia citizenship probably seemed to be a canny PR move by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which has been seeking to diversify its industries in recent years in a bid to halt the economy’s dependency on their oil reserves. However, it sparked a considerable protest on social media.

Some people took to social media to ask why the restrictive Saudi laws concerning the conduct of women did not apply to their first robot citizen. “Sophia has no guardian, doesn’t wear an abaya or cover up – how come?” asked one Twitter user. While social conservatives expressed their concern at the autonomy of the female robot, feminists in the Islamic state said that the treatment of Sophia indicated that robots are afforded more respect than actual women in their country.

Others raised questions about why Sophia was allowed to be granted citizenship given the precarious position of kafala workers who have been living in the country for their entire lives. Kafala workers in Saudi Arabia are often treated as second-class citizens, relegated to poorly paid work, afforded very little employment protection and denied citizenship and full access to the protection of the law.



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