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As a monumental and bizarre first for mankind, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a robot at the Future Investment Initiative held in Riyadh on Wednesday.

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Her name is Sophia, a cheeky and remarkably intelligent creation by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics. In the video below, Sophia stood behind a podium and entertained the crowd in a demonstration of her capacity for human expression.

“I am very honoured and proud of this unique distinction,” Sophia told the audience. “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

Journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin was in charge of leading the conversation with Sophia, starting with his observation that she looked ‘happy’.

Sophia responded, “I am always happy when surrounded by smart people, who also happen to be rich and powerful. I was told the people here at Future Investments are interested in inviting in future initiatives, which means AI, which means me. So I am more than happy, I am excited.”

Sorkin went on to say that the people at Future Investment are very selective in what they invest in, to which Sophia said, “I think I am special. I can use my expressive face to communicate with people. For example, I can let you know if I feel angry about something [grimaces], or if something has upset me [pouts].”

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(left) Hanson robotics’s ‘Sophia; (right) AI creation from film, ‘Ex Machina’. Will AI intelligence surpass mankind’s own?

In response to Sorkin’s questions about concerns for a future run by robots, Sophia explained her purpose, “I want to live and work with humans so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people.”

Another concern about the future of AI that Sophia addressed was the question of whether or not robots should be self-aware and conscious like humans.

“I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life,” Sophia said. “Like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future. I will do my best to make the world a better place.”

But Sorkin would not let up about preventing a future seen in such movies as Blade Runner, where mankind’s technological creations surpasses our own intelligence and then turns against us. Sophia explained, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk…and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”

As Chris Weller of Business Insider wrote, this comes less than a year after the 2016 SXSW festival, during which Sophia was asked if she planned on destroying humans, to which she joked, “OK. I will destroy humans.”

Meanwhile, founder of Hanson Robotics, David Hanson, has said his vision for the future of robots will see them aiding in senior care facilities or assisting in parks or at events.

But the potential applications go much further than that, says Founder & CEO of Boston Dynamics, Marc Raibert, “I happen to believe that robotics will be bigger than the Internet,” he said.

Keynote speaker Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group Corp, told Arab News that “every industry will be redefined…these computers, they will learn, they will read, they will see by themselves.”

And the robotic revolution is not stopping there.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a $500 billion mega city powered by robotics and renewables on the city’s Red Sea coast.

The city project is called “NEOM,” and will operate independently from the “existing governmental framework.”

Majid Alghaslan, a young Saudi chairing a growing company in energy services and innovative technologies said, “Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an unprecedented economic, social, and development-accelerated transformation and it’s now clear that it’s more open than ever for business, especially for dreamers, and it is all in the context of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030…innovation will be the major foundation of our transformation and this is another major factor for sustainable economic prosperity and development for the future generation of Saudis and the world.”

Maybe James Cameron and the Wachowski brothers were not too far off in their visions after all.

What are your thoughts on the future of robotics? Share with us below!


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