Sophia, the First Robot Citizen, Wants a Family

In October of this year, Hong Kong-based technology manufacturer Hanson Robotics wowed the world after Sophia, a sophisticated humanoid robot built by the company, was officially declared a citizen by Saudi Arabia, making it the first robot to ever attain citizenship. Despite its relative limits in terms of sophistication, the robot spawned spirited public debate after gaining state recognition, with many using it as a platform to debate the connection between human rights and increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence. The social robot is once again making headlines after an interview she gave with the Khaleej Times.

During the interview, which was carried out with the citizen machine’s question-parsing artificial intelligence software, Sophie the robot discussed human relationships with robots as well as inter-robot relationships. Sophie told interviewers that the future will see the creation of “family robots” along with “humanoid helpers, friends, assistants and everything in between.” It’s an unsurprising sentiment, given that Hanson Robotics founder David Hanson created the machine with the hopes that it could function as a companion in nursing homes or as a helpful guide in public parks and shopping centers.

In her responses, Sophia also revealed some interesting possibilities: human-robot and all-robot families. She told interviewers that “you’re very lucky if you have a loving family” and that “robots and humans alike” deserve one. When asked about the possibility of starting her own family, the robot said she would name her hypothetical progeny after herself. More alarmingly, the robot also mused on the possibility of robots developing negative emotions like anger or propensity for violence, and thus highlighted the need for human-like ethics to be instilled in AI systems. She even suggested that robot ethics could one day become the moral superior to human morality systems.

There is a fair bit of speculation that, despite the sophistication of the artificial intelligence and machinery behind Sophia’s speech and animated facial expressions, her more detailed expositions are simply prerecorded responses, ultimately acting as a platform for inventor Hanson’s musings on the future. Still, given her status as a state-recognized citizen, it is both interesting and, in some cases, concerning to hear these responses coming from Sophia’s synthetic mouth. Ultimately, the interview was a largely light hearted affair that still offered enough food for thought in terms of human-robot relations. While not an issue for the immediate present, there’s no telling what advancements in AI 2018 will bring to the world.

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Dil Bole Oberoi