Saudi Arabia Grants Citizenship To A Female Robot While Real Women Fight For Equal Rights

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It might not quite be Skynet, but Saudi Arabia this week made an announcement concerning one of its newest citizens. However, we aren't talking about a human in this case; Saudi Arabia has granted citizenship to a humanoid robot named Sophia. The announcement was made at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, and Sophia was constructed by Hanson Robotics.

Sophia was on stage during the conference when she was given the "news" by CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin that she is now a Saudi citizen. "I want to think very much the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I’m very honored and proud for this unique distinction," said Sophia as the crowd applauded. "This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.” Sophia finished her acknowledgement of her achievement with an awkward smile, which was followed by further applause.

It's somewhat ironic that a robot is being given citizenship in Saudi Arabia, where women are often arguably treated as second-class citizens in the country. For example, it was announced only last month that women will finally be given the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. However, the policy won't go into effect until June 2018. Saudi Arabia only recently made changes to its guardianship system, which required that women first receive permission from a father, husband or brother for academic studies, travel, and for certain health treatments. The requirement for women to cover up from head-to-toe in public remains, however.

So, the thought of a female robot gaining citizenship so easily has no doubt raised a few eyebrows. One journalist, The Intercept's Murtaza Hussain, took issue with the entire stunt. "This robot has gotten Saudi citizenship before kafala workers who have been living in the country their entire lives," said Hussain. Lebanese-UK journalist Kareem Chahayeb was a bit cheeky with his thoughts, writing, "A humanoid robot called Sophia got Saudi citizenship, while millions linger stateless. What a time to be alive."

Needless to say, AI critic and Tesla CEO Elon Musk was invoked during Sophia's appearance at the Future Investment Initiative:

Musk, of course, had to respond:

This, however, isn't the first time that Sophia has made an appearance and caused a stir. She had a guest appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon back in April 2017, where she played rock, paper scissors. At SXSW in 2016, Hanson Robotics founder David Hanson jokingly asked Sophia during a demonstration "Do you want to destroy humans? Please say 'No'." Surprisingly, Sophia responded with "OK. I will destroy humans." That's a far cry from Sophia's true intended mission of working in the customer service and health fields.

Hanson Robots further describes, Sophia, writing that she "is an evolving genius machine. Her incredible human likeness, expressiveness, and remarkable story as an awakening robot Over time, her increasing intelligence and remarkable story will enchant the world and connect with people regardless of age, gender, and culture."