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Humanoid Sophia has more rights than Saudi women and it’s wrong

May 08th, 2018
in:Technology
located in:Saudi Arabia
tags:Artificial intelligence, robot Sophia, Saudi Arabia, women's rights

Saudi Arabia is scrutinised for its women's rights. This makes it even more alarming that artificially intelligent humanoid and robot Sophia was granted – to the anger of many, including myself – citizenship status in the country's capital Riyadh.

by Maddy White

Unlike the women of Saudi, Sophia does not have to be accompanied by a male attendant (known as a guardian), is not Muslim and does not have to wear a mandatory headscarf and abaya everywhere. She is designed – who knows why – to look like British actress Audrey Hepburn, with (as described on the company’s website), “porcelain skin, a slender nose, high cheekbones, an intriguing smile, and deeply expressive eyes”. Created by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, Sophia is the company's most advanced robot ever, able to be interviewed, chat, make reasonably convincing facial expressions and even sing should she put her ‘mind’ to it.

Is this a tactical move for Saudi Arabia, with Sophia a plug for investors? Probably. Giving her citizenship is cementing Saudi’s place in this revolutionary tech that will encourage people to part with their money. Now, if we forgot about Saudi’s history with its real women, you might just think this is unnecessary – giving a robot ‘people’ status to gain investment. Possibly, the country has taken the US’ notion of corporate personhood, that is, giving corporations more rights than actual people, to the most radical and undermining level.

But that’s impossible, who could forget the Qatif rape case, when a 19-year-old girl and her male friend – also her attendant – were both gang-raped by seven men in 2006. And, if that wasn’t traumatising enough, then being sentenced by Saudi’s so-called ‘justice’ system to 90 lashes each, on the basis that her male attendant was not a close relative. An appeals court – in 2007– then doubled the woman’s sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison as she had spoken out to international press about her ordeal, how could she? Eventually, both victims were given a royal pardon. Or more recently, Saudi proposing, – as if it is normal, – an Olympics that excludes women. Instead, offering to collaborate with Bahrain to allow the women’s events to happen off their turf.

Giving Sophia robot autonomy is a clear example of the country's corrupt system, which at present, is amidst a massive scandal with dozens of royals, powerful businessmen and senior government officials arrested for fraud. Saudi Arabia's attorney general, Sheikh Saud Al Mojeb said in a statement that through embezzlement and systematic corruption over several decades, $100 billion has been misused. Saudi Arabia continue to try and hopscotch to the future and leave out vital steps, with Sophia, their women and money. It’s focusing all of your energy on getting your opponent's pawns but leaving your queen open for target, but in the case of Saudi, on purpose.

Women continue to be considered subhuman. Speak out or defy the regime in any way – in the case of the Qatif rape – and you are irrationally punished. Malak al-Shehri tweeted a picture of herself without her abaya on in public and she was detained and interrogated for five days. Amnesty International said in their 2016/17 report that her legal status still remains “unclear”. Four out of nine of the athletes who represented the nation were women in the last Olympics, which is great. Right? An impressive figure. But, they were hard to find. Women aren’t allowed to play in state-organised sports, official tournaments, clubs; anything. They were hunted to make Saudi look less appalling. In fact, physical education is banned for girls in school and it’s impossible to ignore the repercussions of this second-rate human status – according to a report published on the Institute for Gulf Affairs, 44% of the female population are obese compared to 26% of men.

Of course, I am not the first to point out the sour irony that female citizens in the country, well the real ones, should have their rights progressed over Sophia’s bizarre citizenship. Other outraged people began the trending Arabic hashtag #Sophia_calls_for_dropping_guardianship on Twitter, which protested against male nannies for Saudi women in light of Sophia’s own autonomy. Perhaps this sarcastic approach may help. Social media as a tool has remained something useful to Saudi women, an example being in gaining the right to drive a few months ago. They were however, the only country in the world that banned female drivers, small steps or walking up an escalator backward?

Whilst a massive progress in robotics; Sophia remains no more human than a cold coffee. Saudi Arabia should focus on its women’s rights, instead of trying to ploy investors – with the help of this humanoid – to take part in this archaic nation’s interests. No one should play their cheating game.

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Embed from Getty Images
Sophia is designed – who knows why – to look like British actress Audrey Hepburn.
Embed from Getty Images
If we forgot about Saudi’s history with its real women, you might just think this whole thing with Sophia is unnecessary.
Embed from Getty Images
Giving Sophia robot autonomy is a clear example of the country's corrupt system, which at present, is amidst a massive scandal with dozens of royals, powerful businessmen and senior government officials.

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