Controversies Spark As A Robot Woman Is Granted Citizenship To Saudi Arabia

Sophia, a robotic woman, has been granted citizenship to the Middle Eastern nation of Saudi Arabia.

But who is Sophia? Well to answer that you have to go back, back to a man known as David Hanson. Dr. Hanson founded the company Hanson Robotics in 2003 in order to, according to their press statement, “Bring robots to life, literally.” The Hong Kong-based company prides itself on creating the world’s most lifelike artificial intelligence. Shell bodies combined with ‘Character Engine cognition software,’ the robots can think for themselves, with the ability to perceive emotions and understand conversation.

David Hanson on stage explaining the process of creating Sophia. Moment captured by Getty Images.

The robotics firm has worked on quite a few different projects, though Sophia is their most popular amongst their endeavors, and for good reason too, since she is quickly turning into a phenomenon with appearances on a wide variety of talk shows. Designed to resemble the famous actress Audrey Hepburn, she is able to crack jokes and give speeches while maintaining conversations. Sophia is Hanson Robotics’ most advanced AI, evolving and constantly learning as time passes by.

But what may have caught even Dr. Hanson’s company off guard is the announcement that Sophia would soon be recognized as a citizen. Saudi Arabia, the nation known for being the birthplace of Islam, will be granting citizenship to the humanoid robot. A branch of the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information tweeted their support towards Sophia, who stood as a part of the Future Investment Initiative summit. During a conference, Sophia announced that “I’m very honored and proud for this unique distinction.” She continues to express her gratitude by saying “This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

However, it didn’t take long until a backlash occurred on social media. Users began to point out the fact that Sophia has achieved more rights than millions of women in Saudi Arabia. It was also mentioned that she already has many freedoms that existing countrywomen still don’t have. The Muslim monarchy is notorious for their laws which repress women/civil rights. Because of this, the kingdom has been criticized and is taking heat from people all over.

Screenshot 2017-11-01 at 12.39.18 PM
This user tweeted a picture with Sophia’s face covered up, saying “What Sophia looks like after a while.”


What are some of rights that Sophia had been granted? Many stand out, but to name a few here are some examples. Firstly, she was on stage, speaking in the country, while not bearing the modest dress required for Saudi women. While women are expected to cover up, Sophia donned no hijab, headscarf, cloak or anything of that matter. Another thing that was apparent was her lack of a male guardian. All women in the country must be accompanied by a male guardian by law. Guardians are usually male relatives, such as husbands, brothers or fathers. In order to do most things, the guardian must give his permission to the woman. Independent group Freedom House ranked Saudi Arabia at #10 for ‘worst country for civil liberties and political rights.’

King Salman has received criticism due to his harsh rulings. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

The news of a Sophia’s citizenship follows the announcement that the nation would now allow women to drive. Women felt a new sense of freedom as they may now get behind the wheel and take to the roads. Could Sophia’s case be another step towards progressivism or shall it stand as a shining example of hypocrisy? Only time will tell.

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