Sophia the Robot Named ‘Citizen’ by Saudi Arabia

When Saudi Arabia announced to the world that it granted citizenship to a robot named Sophia, it garnered headlines and TV publicity. A gimmick used to promote a tech summit fooled even the respected online magazine, The Verge, which bought into this strange idea.

After her creator, David Hanson, went on TV with Jimmy Fallon and declared his bot is “basically alive,” the United Nations invited “her” to speak. Then Saudi Arabia got involved and announced it had granted Sophia citizenship. Soon questions begin to mount. Human rights versus robotic rights would create a new problem to resolve.

“If this sounds like a PR stunt to you, well, you’re right: the Saudi kingdom was using this eye-grabbing headline to promote a tech summit, part of its nationwide policy to transform an oil-based economy into something more forward-thinking. But it’s not just headline fluff. Some experts say this sort of approach to robot rights is actively damaging, both to public understanding of technology and to civil society itself.”

James Vincent@jjvincent wrote in an article for The Verge that Sophia is nothing more than a clever puppet, not so much a robot as an android, but still not “basically alive.”

“Sophia is essentially designed to exploit our cultural expectations of what a robot looks and sounds like. It can hold a stilted conversation, yes, but its one-liners seem to be prewritten responses to key words. (As Piers Morgan commented during an interview with Sophia, ‘Obviously these are programmed answers.’) And while Sophia does look sort-of human, so do animatronic creations in theme parks. And in fact, that’s where Sophia’s creator Hanson honed his skills, spending years working as a Walt Disney imagineer making ‘characters and props.’ A sample from his CV: ‘Sculpted numerous features in Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, serving as lead sculptor on the character trees and Heffalump balloons.’ ”


This is not just an abstract argument. The European Parliament has been already been researching the possibility of giving robots the status of “electronic persons.”