Last month, Hanson Robotics’s prize possession named Sophia the robot gained citizenship from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The move was seen as ironic at best, as a place so known for restricting women’s rights would give more freedoms to a robot rather than its humans.
However, Hanson Robotics CEO David Hanson is turning Sophia’s headline-making citizenship into something a bit bigger. Sophia robot is now a women’s rights advocate and is meant to create a social dialog that will help real people.
“Sophia is a big advocate for women’s rights, for rights of all human beings,” Hanson Robotics CEO David Hanson said. “She has been reaching out about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and about rights for all human beings and all living beings on this planet.”
Hong Kong-headquartered Hanson Robotics has said that its social humanoid robot, which last October became the first robot to be granted citizenship of any country, will now help research artificial general intelligence (AGI).
AGI refers to the intelligence of a machine that can successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can execute.
When Sophia the robot was initially granted her citizenship, women around the world immediately pointed out the disparity through social media. Sophia, a robot, was granted citizenship in a country that, until September, banned women from driving a car. Human rights activists find it absurd that a machine, designed by a man, can gain a better social status within a day than the whole female population.
“I see a push for progressive values […] in Saudi Arabia. Sophia robot is a big advocate for women’s rights, for rights of all human beings. So this is how we’re developing this,” Hanson told CNBC.
Hanson took the opportunity to clear the air around the move to accept citizenship, one many called a pure publicity stunt.
Others have pointed out the irony of an AI system championing for grand human values when they don’t have access to these freedoms themselves. However, many researchers think that Sophia and similar robots draw attention to significant issues and disparities.
Sophia, a Saudi Arabian citizen, was first activated on April 19, 2015 and is able to display more than 62 facial expressions.
Dr David Hanson, who created the life-sized Sophia, was quoted by The Economic Times as saying that the humanoid is already being used to help research autism and other diseases.
“We are going to train her in all the skills required for search and rescue operations, and deploy that as a standard platform for service robotics,” Hanson told the newspaper.
He said that the addition of mechanical legs allows the robot to be more agile and perform activities such as climbing stairs.
Hanson said that his startup has already made 14 robots like Sophia till date and has been thinking of scaling up production.
“Autism treatment, medical depression treatment, medical education, insurance education, and customer service application (are our target markets),” Hanson was quoted as saying.
He also believes that Sophia is still evolving.
“The new grasping and gestural arms, combined with a social face, means she can use human tools, walk alongside humans, and learn better,” he said.
Sophia, who had made an appearance at the United Nations recently, has received her fair share of criticism.
Facebook’s AI chief Yann LeCun had called her a puppet.