Saudi Arabia on Wednesday became the first country to grant citizenship to a robot.
The robot, Sophia, is a humanoid created by the Hong-Kong-based Hanson Robotics for the purpose of aiding seniors and visitors to parks. The announcement came in the lead up of the Future Investment Initiative held in Riyadh, the country’s capital.
"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 a citizenship," Sophia told the initiative’s panel in response.
Sophia has cameras and AI software that allow her to “make eye contact” and recognize people. She also has voice recognition capabilities and can become smarter by talking with people.
Some Saudis were apparently none too pleased to learn of their new fellow citizen. Social media users criticized the fact that she was not wearing an abaya and appeared to be unaccompanied by a male guardian, two illegal acts for a woman in the country. Others pointed out that the fact that she didn’t get in trouble means that this robotic woman has more rights that an actual woman in Saudi Arabia.
However, the abaya might be a moot point since the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman plans to put Sophia in a forthcoming megacity called Neom—a center for business and tourism that will not require women to wear abayas. Robots are expected to outnumber people in the city.
The robot’s creator, David Hanson, is a famed roboticist who once lost an android replication of science fiction author Philip K. Dick’s head at an airport. He has been an ardent critic of the Uncanny Valley principle, which holds that robots become more disturbing the more realistic they become.
Sophia doesn’t exactly help his case. She has doll eyes, a mousy face, and a translucent scalp that exposes the mesh of wires in her head. Though a citizen of Saudi Arabia, her true home will forever remain in the Uncanny Valley.