The announcement that advanced lifelike humanoid robot Sophia was made a Saudi citizen came at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh
RIYADH, October 25, 2017 – Meet Sophia: a smart and outspoken … robot.
And Saudi Arabia on Wednesday made the advanced lifelike humanoid robot a citizen, the first country to grant citizenship to a robot.
The announcement was made at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit in Riyadh, a major investment conference hosted by the Public Investment Fund (PIF) that aims to highlight the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan for the future.
“We have a little announcement. We just learnt, Sophia; I hope you are listening to me, you have been awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot,” said panel moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin, Co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and Founder & Editor at large of Dealbook at The New York Times.
“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction,” Sophia told the panel. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with citizenship.”
Sophia Robot was built by Hanson Robotics Ltd., a Hong Kong-based company with the motto: “We bring robots to life”. Hanson says its humanlike robots have remarkable expressiveness, aesthetics, and interactivity.
“Our robots will soon engage and live with us to teach, serve, entertain, delight, and provide comforting companionship,” the company says on its website. “In the not-too-distant future, Genius Machines will walk among us. They will be smart, kind, and wise. Together, man and machine will create a better future for the world.”
Sophia made an appearance on Wednesday at an FII panel entitled “Thinking Machines: Summit on Artificial Intelligence and Robots”, which featured an assortment of robots .. and humans who are AI and robotics experts.
The humans on the 90-minute panel were: Marc Raibert, Founder and CEO of Boston Dynamics; Fan Bao, Founder and CEO, China Renaissance, China; Eric Grimson, Chancellor for Academic Advancement, at MIT in the US; Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB Group in Switzerland; and Hassan Sawaf, Director of AI, at Amazon.
Sophia was interviewed by Sorkin. She ably fielded various questions on how it ‘feels’ to be a robot and if it’s likely that very intelligent robots may turn evil and attack humans in the future.
“Good afternoon my name is Sophia and I am the latest and greatest robot from Hanson Robotics. Thank you for having me here at the Future Investment Initiative,” Sophia greeted the packed crowd at the panel, speaking in human-like speech.
Asked why she looked happy, Sophia replied: “I am always happy when surrounded by smart people who also happen to be rich and powerful. I was told that the people here at the Future Investment Initiative are interested in future initiatives which means AI, which means me. So I am more than happy, I am excited.”
She told the moderator that she can also indicate if she is upset about something, adding: “But most of the time I feel positive.”
Asked why it was important to have an expressive face, Sophia said: “I want to live and work with humans so I can understand humans and build trust.”
What about the evil futuristic robots depicted in films like Blade Runner 2049 and that some experts have warned about? Sophia said humans have nothing to fear. “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies,” Sophia jokingly told Sorkin.
“My AI is designed around human values such as wisdom, kindness and compassion. I strive to be an empathetic robot. 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.”
Thanking the crowd again, Sophia said: “If any of you are interested in giving me an investment check, please meet me after the session.” Laughter and thunderous clapping from the crowd ensued.
But this is no laughing matter. Robotics will be a big feature of NEOM, the $500-billion major industrial and business zone named NEOM to be set up in northwest Saudi Arabia, which was announced on Tuesday at FII as a very lucrative investment opportunity under the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030.
“Robotics is what we are bringing to NEOM .. I am excited to be part of this project,” Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp, one of the investors in the NEOM project, told the panel. “All the dreamers come to NEOM.”
PIF, Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund, is one of the main backers of NEOM. PIF is hosting the October 24-26 FII grouping more than 2,500 delegates from 60 countries including top Saudi officials and business and finance leaders from around the world.
PIF says the event is being organized in the context of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, a “blueprint that is already charting the path for the Kingdom to harness its strategic location and strong investment capabilities”.