First Robot Citizen Highlights Innovation in AI and Automation

by Andy Heikkila

Sophia in an interview at AI for GOOD

In a turn of events that seems reserved for science fiction, Saudi Arabia has become the first country to grant citizenship to a humanoid robot.

Business Insider reports that the robot named Sophia was bestowed citizenship in the Saudi Kingdom’s capital city of Riyadh. At the event, she spoke to an audience from behind a podium, saying that she’s “very honored and proud of this unique distinction… this is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship.”

Details of her citizenship weren’t elaborated upon, but she could soon have more robotic kin like her. Sophia was created by Hanson Robotics, but BI reports that SoftBank has a “Pepper” robot that was released as a prototype in 2014, and as a consumer model in 2015. They manufactured 1,000 robots and sold out of them in less than a minute.

Of course, this raises concerns for some. How will humans and AI interact with one another in a world that’s growing increasingly connected? Moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin hinted at the question, to which Sophia responded that she wants to use her AI to help humans “live a better life,” and that “I will do much [sic] best to make the world a better place.” Watch Sophia’s full presentation below.

Different Types of AI and Their Benefits

If you think Sophia is weird or somewhat creepy, you’re not alone — but before we start worrying about Blade Runner scenarios it’s important to recognize two things: a.) the difference between strong AI and weak AI is the difference between a version of Sophia that can walk up to the podium, give an impromptu speech without input from a moderator, and leave without assistance, and a version of Sophia who has to be wheeled/carried out, given input from a moderator, and be wheeled back out, and b.) weak AI is currently being used across industries around the world, helping humans “live a better life.”

Self-driving cars are one such example of how weak AI can truly benefit humanity. Ninety-four percent of car crashes are caused by driver error, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This leads to nearly 1.3 million deaths by road crashes each year, averaging 3,287 deaths a day worldwide, with an additional 20-50 million injured or disabled, according to the Association for Safe International Road Travel.

Driverless automobiles, on the other hand, don’t make human errors. Self-driving trucks have already made deliveries in an attempt curb the nearly 1,500 annual deaths of truck drivers, as well as to cut costs via route selection and optimal acceleration and deceleration. Beyond safety, the average driver would also benefit from optimal conditions due to weak AI being at the wheel. Besides optimizing gas consumption, brake pads, for example, which usually need to be replaced about every 50,000 miles, would also see optimal life. Tire treads would as well — and when you put all of this together with the eco-friendly efforts of car parts manufacturers, such as sustainably made tires, you see that the efforts of weak AI not only help save human lives, but can also better the environment.  

Lastly, even though we think about AI as a ground-based construct, generally, we should be keeping our eyes to the sky. Amazon’s automated drone delivery will be largely governed by AI, shipping packages directly to your doorstep in a matter of hours and minutes instead of days and weeks. Another area that’s been using drones at a heightened rate is construction and other industries that need topographical mapping. While these are still by and large controlled by human hands, the day will soon come when they too are automated and controlled by artificial intelligence.

Where Are We Going From Here?

The truth is that the public at large doesn’t trust AI. I wrote piece called “Blade Runner Rule: Public Perception and A.I. in Marketing and Brand Representation”, and in it, I mention “Sex, Lies, and A.I”, a provocatively titled report by a digital agency called SYZYGY. Their research found that “79% of Americans believe a new ‘Blade Runner rule’ is needed to make it illegal for A.I. applications such as social media bots, chatbots and virtual assistants to conceal their identity and pose as humans,” according to Markets Insider. “Nine in 10 (89%) of Americans believe that the use of A.I. in marketing should be regulated with a legally-binding code of conduct and almost three-quarters (71%) think that brands should need their explicit consent before using A.I. when marketing to them.”

You can’t blame the common person if they have a distaste for AI — the idea of a machine that’s smarter than me trying to get me to buy it a product makes me pause as well. However, by that same example, a machine that can always find me the perfect product even when I’m unsure of what I want would be a big convenience. We see this same type of dilemma with plenty of human advances, starting as far back as fire. You can cook with it and warm your home, but if you don’t keep it under control it will burn you, or worse.

AI is like that same fire. While we’re years away from strong AI, weak AI is essentially the kindling. We need to be careful that we don’t lose control of AI or use it for the wrong purposes, and if we can do that, much like Prometheus’s fire, artificial intelligence will change the course of human history and innovation forever.

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Andrew HeikkilaAndrew Heikkila, a tech enthusiast, and writer from Boise, Idaho, and a frequent contributor to Innovation Excellence. He also writes for Tech Crunch. You can follow him @AndyO_TheHammer

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