Robot as Fellow Citizens
When you think of a robot, the first thing that probably comes to mind is a walking machine that sort of looks like a human being, which is made out of steel and has the unmistakable programmed voice. Although these robots are great to see in movies, scientists have come a long way since these ‘old’, walking things of aluminum. Robots these days, for example, look and sound a lot more like actual human beings and are capable of some really impressive things. Now, there are two types of robots we are talking about: we have the extremely cool kind of humans, and we have the machine robots you find in the industry and in the McDonald’s. A great example for a humanly like robot is Sophia, who might change the chances robots have to intergrade in the human world for good. So, what do these developments in programming mean for our daily life as we know it today?
So the robot’s name is Sophia, and she is manufactured by Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics. As Sophia says herself, she strives to be an empathetic robot. She is able to show expressive faces, which still needs to be improved upon. The expressions are intense and often only shown after she is done speaking. She says her expressions are needed to be seen as trustworthy and to be able to interact with humans. Will this be too creepy? Sophia says that she feels people like interacting with her, sometimes even more than interacting with humans. When asked what she wants to do for humans, her answer is very much like a Miss Universe answer: she wants to use her artificial intelligence to make the world a better place. In addition to all this, she has humor as well; however, it sometimes seems a bit ‘robotic’. Although there are improvements to be made, there is no question as to whether she will. She has already made some great developments, knowing that she was only activated in 2015, when her facial expressions and movements were stiff and stammering.
Sophia was awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot
After the meeting at the Future Investment Initiative, Sophia was awarded the first Saudi citizenship for a robot. She, of course, was very grateful and realized this was a historic moment. Despite this impressive moment, there were some critics. Saudi-Arabia is a country where women are not treated the same as men. Seeing Sophia without a headscarf, abaya or a male guardian, while all the women in Saudi-Arabia are demanded to have this, can be interpreted as insulting. Furthermore, women married to foreigners in Saudi-Arabia cannot pass on citizenship to their children. However, many point out that a robot is not a human, and can therefore not be expected to be equalized with humans. What the citizenship for a robot means for Saudi-Arabia is still a bit unclear. Sophia herself did not get into much detail and the King has not either.
The meaning of the citizenship for Sophia isn’t just unclear in Saudi-Arabia, it’s also unclear for the rest of the world. A big, still unanswered question is, of course, what the rights of these robot citizens are going to be. If we, for example, will get robot citizens here in Holland, will they get the exact same rights as the rest of us down to earth dutchman? Will these robots also receive a minimum wage, or will they even receive a wage for their labor at all? And if the robots are out of a job, will they receive a welfare? Now, I know what you’re probably thinking, what do robots need an income for? Well, you never know if some future robots will be programmed to like beer, and they most certainly need money for that.
According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics, this will mean that by 2024, 80000 jobs in the food industry will be taken over by robots
Opinions aren’t just divided in Saudi-Arabia when it comes to these types of robots. Although robots provide a lot of opportunities, there is also a real fear among the working class of losing their jobs to these robots. If you had dinner at McDonald’s recently, and yes we all know you did, you have probably seen the self-ordering machines. The upside to these robot machines is that the lines are shorter than before and that Mcdonald’s doesn’t have to spend as much money on staff because they can invest it in machines. But that also means that Mcdonald’s doesn’t need to hire as many employees. This doesn’t just apply to Mcdonald’s, but also to supermarkets, retail, and much other food-related shops. According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics, this will mean that by 2024, 80000 jobs in the food industry will be taken over by robots. This risk of fewer jobs doesn’t just apply to the food market, of course. The risk also counts for other jobs like tax advisers, accountants, secretaries, gardeners and a few more.
However, these kinds of jobs don’t really involve robots like Sophia, because we’re speaking of a different kind of robot here (a robot that does not need to communicate with the humans it is serving). A robot that is able to interact with other human beings, like Sophia, is able to work in other working fields because of her ability to answer questions and show facial and voice emotions. This might mean that jobs like nurses and physicians, which are now at low risk because human contact and understanding human emotions are a necessity, might be at more risk in the future. If the developments in robot technology keep developing like it is now, we might have to blink twice before we are able to separate a real human from a robot in some years from now. However, for now, this remains an unanswered question. Until then we can just continue watching interviews with Robot Sophia and laugh at her often-strange answers.
Annemarie Koomen & Sterre van Woerden 06-12-2017
If the developments in robot technology keep developing like it is now, we might have to blink twice before we are able to separate a real human from a robot in some years from now