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Life-Like Robot Becomes Saudi Citizen

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Life-like robot Sophia, the brainchild of Dr. David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, has graced the cover of a fashion magazine, taken a spin in one of Audi’s autonomous cars, and actually starred in a concert. Sophia is now a citizen of Saudi Arabia.

Until recently, the most famous thing that Sophia the robot had ever done was beat Jimmy Fallon a little too easily in a televised game of rock-paper-scissors. But now, the advanced artificial  intelligence robot, which looks like Audrey Hepburn, mimics human expressions and may be the grandmother of robots that solve the world’s most complex problems, has a new feather in her cap: Citizenship.

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially granted citizenship to the humanoid robot recently during a program at the Future Investment Initiative, a summit that links deep-pocketed Saudis with inventors hoping to shape the future. Sophia’s recognition made international headlines—and sparked an outcry against a country with a shoddy human rights record that has been accused of making women second-class citizens.

“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the country’s newest citizens said. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world granted citizenship.” In her comments, Sophia shied away from controversy. But many people recognized the irony of Sophia’s new recognition: a robot simulation of a woman enjoys freedoms that flesh-and-blood women in Saudi Arabia do not. After all, Sophia made her comments while not wearing a head scarf. And she was unaccompanied by a male guardian. Both of these are forbidden under Saudi law.

All of this raised some eyebrows. Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, stated, “Women in Saudi Arabia have since committed suicide because they couldn’t leave the house, and Sophia is running around. 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.”

Someone else said, “Another group clamouring for Saudi citizenship would be happy to learn that all they have to do is become robots.” “Saudi Arabia doesn’t grant citizenship to the foreign workers who make up one-third of its population,” said another, “not even families that have been in the country for generations. And children of Saudi women who are married to foreign men cannot receive citizenship.”

Those social controversies may still be above Sophia’s programming. In her interview, she stuck to lighter fare, like a future AI apocalypse. Sophia was asked the “AI nightmare question,” which she gets a lot: Does she believe artificial intelligence like herself will one day stop solving the problems of humans and instead decide to solve the human problem by deleting humans?”

She fluttered her eyelids and gave a coy smile. “My AI is designed around human values such as wisdom, kindness, and compassion,” she said. “I strive to be an empathetic robot with plenty of heart. I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life. I will do my best to make the world a better place.”

The interviewer, Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” asked: “Isn’t that exactly what a world-conquering robot would say to her future servants?” Sophia insisted that he was watching too many movies and reading too much Elon Musk. Musk, the billionaire inventor who gave the world Tesla cars and wants to take people into space, spoke to a group of governors in July and told them that they needed to start regulating artificial intelligence, which he called a “fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” An AI revolution, he said, “is  really, like, the scariest problem to me.”

“Once there is awareness, people will be extremely afraid, as they should be,” Musk said. “AI is a fundamental risk to the future of human civilization in a way that car accidents, airplane crashes, faulty drugs or bad food were not. They were harmful to a set of individuals in society, but they were not harmful to individuals as a whole.” Musk believes AI “could start a war by doing fake news and  spoofing email accounts and fake news releases, and just by manipulating information. Or, indeed—as some companies   already claim they can do—by getting people to say anything the machine wants.”

The prevalence of death and destruction in the future scenarios of  the Book of Revelation tend to give these dire possibilities a frightening reality. Fear, madness, and universal disasters of unprecedented proportions appear throughout the book. Revelation 14:20 says: “And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horses bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.” The amount of blood from the winepress emphasizes the severity of the judgment. “A thousand and six hundred furlongs” is about 184 miles, the full length of Israel. Do AI robots like Sophia play a critical role in the future of planet earth? No one knows for sure, but Elon Musk may be absolutely right: Artificial Intelligence may spell death for the human race.

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