Robots are becoming more lifelike every day. As these increasingly human machines get closer to us, many are wondering how exactly we should relate to them, socially, politically and legally. Sophia the Humanoid is one such robot, designed to be especially human-like in appearance and mannerisms – and she was just granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia.
Sophia the Humanoid?
David Hanson, of Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, was responsible for the creation of Sophia, apparently modeled to resemble Audrey Hepburn. During the Future Investment Initiative show, which took place in Riyadh recently, it was announced that Sophia had been awarded Saudi citizenship.
But some aren’t so impressed with Sophia, with Hanson, or with the decision to grant her the citizenship. The act is widely considered to be at least partially a PR stunt contrived to draw attention to the conference. What better way to make the headlines? Some point out the irony of the country’s willingness to grant citizenship to a robotic woman only a short time after they granted human women the right to drive.
Others are concerned that Hanson’s work on Sophia is not as advanced as he makes it out to be. While looking uncannily human (with the emphasis on uncanny), Sophia doesn’t actually seem to possess the intelligence she is sometimes implied to. Rather, her conversational ability consists of pre-programmed responses to keywords.
Laws of Robotics
More seriously, some, like AI researcher Joanna Bryson – who calls the stunt “bullshit” – are concerned about what this approach to robotic rights might entail. EU lawmakers recently proposed that robots could be given personhood and rights under certain circumstances, but this probably isn’t quite what they had in mind. After all, Sophia is exclusively treated as a product, not a person.
Right now, this might be little more than a publicity stunt, but in the future we might have to seriously ask ourselves whether robots can be more person than product. How will we treat these manufactured people? Can humans be made, not born? If our creations take on a life of their own, we will have to figure out how to inhabit this new world side by side.