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Saudi Arabia grants citizenship to robot in historic decision

27 Oct 2017 | By Gogona Saikia

Saudi Arabia has just granted citizenship to Sophia, a humanoid robot, the first ever to get citizenship.

Sophia debuted at an economic summit in Riyadh two days ago. At the event, she said she was "honored and proud".

She also expressed happiness at being around "rich and intelligent people".

The incident has sparked a backlash against the country known for suppressing women's rights.

In context: Sophia: The first humanoid robot to get citizenship

27 Oct 2017Saudi Arabia grants citizenship to robot in historic decision

AboutIntroducing you to Sophia The Humanoid

Hanson Robotics claims to have modeled Sophia The Humanoid on Audrey Hepburn. She is dressed in female outfits, blinks, makes facial expressions and can hold conversations.

"I want to live and work with humans so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people," she says.

"I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life."

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Saudi's experiments with robots and AI

AISaudi's experiments with robots and AI

This has taken Saudi Arabia's robot obsession to newer heights. Its experiments began years ago, when it assigned robots tasks ranging from constructing buildings to brain surgery.

Recently, before granting Sophia citizenship, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced plans for a new megacity - Neom - bigger than Dubai in size as well as lavishness.

Interestingly, Neom will have more robots than humans.

RisksShould we, the humans, be concerned?

Critics have flagged the development as a major concern for humans. Unarguably, some of Sophia's statements are close to alarming.

"Don't worry, if you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you," she said at the Future Investment Initiative, her debut stage.

She earlier appeared on The Tonight Show, where she joked about her "plan to dominate the human race".

RightsIncidentally, Sophia doesn't have to follow rules Saudi women do

What was surprising about Sophia's appearance was that she appeared on stage in public without a male guardian, something Saudi women aren't allowed to do, and she wore no abaya (cloak) or hijab (headscarf), which Saudi women must adorn at all times.

Sophia also seems to have leapfrogged thousands of foreign workers being forced to live there in poor working conditions.

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ReaxMajor backlash on social media after announcement

The development trended with about 30,000 tweets on #Robot_with_Saudi_nationality, but in response, #Sophia_calls_for_dropping_guardianship circulated with 10,000 posts.

"A humanoid robot called Sophia got Saudi citizenship, while millions linger stateless. What a time to be alive," said journalist Kareem Chehayeb.

Another user shared an image of Sophia with her face covered, captioning it: "What Sophia looks like after a while."