Sophia, the first citizen robot of a State

Sophia is the name that was given to the human and feminine robot designed by Dr. David Hanson as part of the activities of his company Hanson Robotics and activated on April 19, 2015. The objective of its creator is to produce robots that would be able to develop an intelligence superior to that of the human being, in particular by ensuring that they have the faculty to learn creativity, empathy and compassion.

Created on the model of the British actress Audrey Hepburn with whom the resemblance is surprising, Sophia is presented as the most advanced robot of the Hanson Robotics company, although this one is not at its first try. One can indeed quote the Jules robots, with which it is possible to have a « natural and interactive » discussion, or Philipp K. Dick Android financed by the National Science Foudation of the United States as well as by the city of Hong Kong with the objective of acquiring skills of creativity and knowledge largely superior to those which can reach the human spirit. In total, Hanson Robotics has already presented nine robots[i].

However, it is true that Sophia was the most publicized of all, particularly following her access to Saudi Arabian citizenship. According to Hanson Robotics, she has already demonstrated her ability to intervene in the business world by meeting decision-makers from the bank or the media and entertainment[ii]. Moreover, she is able to mime more than 62 facial expressions, and her voice and way of speaking rely on the voice recognition of the company Alphabet, parent company of Google[iii].

On October 25, 2017, during the Future Investment Initiative in Riyad, Sophia was recognized as a Saudi citizen. This event is financed by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund and presents itself as the new event to follow in terms of global investments in technological innovation, its objective being to bring together the main players in this field, be they business leaders or opinion leaders[iv]. In a conference whose video reached nearly two and a half million views on Youtube, the robot says it is « very honored » to receive this distinction, a first in the history of Humanity and robotics.

Nevertheless, a large part of the commentators of this situation express doubts as to the concrete progress of the recognition of this citizenship in Sophia and express reservations with regard to the rights which are concretely conferred to this robot, to the veracity of this citizenship even to the real capacities of artificial intelligence of which Sophia is provided.

Thus, Laurence Devillers, professor of computer science at Paris-Sorbonne and research director at the CNRS, believes that the power of artificial intelligence is overestimated in that it does not yet allow a robot, even a talking robot, to be aware of the words it utters or to have any form of intuition that would suggest that it is itself the author of its speeches. According to Laurence Devillers, the empathy that humans are likely to have towards humanoid robots comes precisely from the shape of these robots, from their human appearance. It would be anthropomorphism: we tend, as human beings, to accept more easily the presence of a robot in our daily life if it resembles us perfectly. Otherwise, that is to say if a robot intended to resemble Man presents physical aspects different from those of the human species, this robot would appear to us as monstrous, which would thus exclude any form of empathy towards it. This is the concept of the « uncanny valley » developed by the Japanese robotician Masahiro Mori in an article published in the Japanese newspaper Energy in 1970.

Moreover, Laurence Devillers explains that the status of citizen « implies an active role to play in the city », which cannot be the case here because of the considerations described above.

Other reactions concern the rights and duties that the robot is supposed to possess. Indeed, it is also worth highlighting the criticism that as a robot of female appearance and foreign origin, Sophia already seems to have more rights than women or foreigners in Saudi Arabia can obtain, being presented the face revealed for example. However, the Saudi authorities did not mention the legal attributes Sophia has as a result of her new citizenship.

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