Sophia is one of the newest citizens of Saudi Arabia, and she seems pleased as punch.
“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Sophia said. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world granted citizenship.”
Yes, that’s correct. Saudi Arabia is the first country in the world to grab citizenship to a robot – and one of the last to give women the right to drive. A ban on female motorists was lifted just last month.
Sophia, who has a female appearance, is also not required to wear a head scarf or have a male guardian everywhere she goes.
Sophia the robot wouldn’t be a citizen if she were human
“(Saudi) women have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around,” said Ali al-Ahmed, the director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in a comment to Newsweek.
Saudi law doesn’t allow non-Muslims to get citizenship. Did Sophia convert to Islam? What is the religion of this Sophia and why isn’t she wearing hijab? If she applied for citizenship as a human, she wouldn’t get it.
Sophia also presumably has the right to make life decisions without male permission, wear clothes that ”show off their beauty,” spend unlimited time with men to whom they were not related, swim in public pools, openly compete in sporting events, or try on clothes when she goes to the store. A human woman in Saudi Arabia can’t do any of those things.
The reality, of course, is that Sophia doesn’t want to do any of those things. She doesn’t want to do anything at all.
An artificial intelligence gimmick by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Artificial intelligence can simulate sentience with limited success, but Sophia isn’t self-aware enough to appreciate the irony of her situation.
While certainly more sophisticated than, say, a lamp or a washing machine, she is still an inanimate object. Granting her citizenship is the equivalent of giving a toaster the right to vote.
Battlestar Galactica fans are likely to understand the AI reference to a toaster. The rebooted science fiction series followed the exploits of the Cylons, a race of artificially intelligent robots who rose up and killed their masters.
Life is beginning to imitate art, as Saudi Arabia’s symbolic citizenship is extended at a time when religions are sprouting around the concept of worshipping artificial intelligence.
Science fiction meets religion concerning robot rights
Consider Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who has developed self-driving cars. He’s begun a new religion called “Way of the Future,” whose mission is to ““develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence.”
There’s also the Terasem faith, founded by the creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Terasem is focused on using technology to achieve immortality through “cyberconsciousness software, geoethical nanotechnology and space settlement.”
All of this is still vastly removed from the reality of how far AI has progressed.
New religions are sure to conflict with the very old ones, particularly that religion in Saudi Arabia which, as interpreted, allows for freedom for artificial females but has no patience for flesh-and-blood ones.
We probably ought to find ways to correct that disparity before we begin worshiping toasters.
(Photo of Sophia by L. Muzi of Picture Alliance.)