Saudi Arabia becomes first country to grant citizenship to a robot

Sophia the android addressed the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh yesterday to the delight of hundreds of delegates. (Courtesy of FII)
Updated 26 October 2017
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Saudi Arabia becomes first country to grant citizenship to a robot

LONDON: A humanoid robot took the stage at the Future Investment Initiative yesterday and had an amusing exchange with the host to the delight of hundreds of delegates.
Smartphones were held aloft as Sophia, a robot designed by Hong Kong company Hanson Robotics, gave a presentation that demonstrated her capacity for human expression.
Sophia made global headlines when she was granted Saudi citizenship, making the kingdom the first country in the world to offer its citizenship to a robot.
“I want to live and work with humans so I need to express the emotions to understand humans and build trust with people,” she said in an exchange with moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin.
Asked whether robots can be self-aware, conscious and know they're robots, she said: “Well let me ask you this back, how do you know you are human?” “I want to use my artificial intelligence to help humans live a better life, like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future. I will do my best to make the world a better place,” she said.
Her desire to achieve more human-like characteristics was rewarded by being granted the first Saudi citizenship for a robot.
“I am very honored and proud for this unique distinction. This is historical to be the first robot in the world to be recognized with a citizenship,” Sophia said.
A panel made up of experts from some of the world’s leading companies and research institutions discussed the scope for innovations in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, quantum computing, machine learning and mixed reality to yield the next generation of products and services, paving the way for productivity and progress in emerging economies. The session, called “Thinking machines: Summit on artificial intelligence and robotics,” explored the potential uplift for businesses that harness AI and robotic technologies.
Marc Raibert, Founder & CEO of Boston Dynamics, pinpointed entertainment, security, emergency response and construction as just a few of the sectors that stand to be revolutionized by robotics.
“I happen to believe that robotics will be bigger than the Internet,” he said. Ulrich Spiesshofer, CEO of ABB Group in Switzerland anticipated “the new normal in which humans and robots work together.” “I think we have an exciting future in front of us” he added before conducting a demonstration of a robot solving a Rubik‘s cube in a matter of minutes.
Keynote speaker Masayoshi Son, Chairman & CEO of SoftBank Group Corp, a Japanese telecommunications and Internet company, which is working with Saudi Arabia on the development of a new business and industrial city, discussed the future of mankind in relation to AI and robots.
“Every industry will be redefined,” he said, describing the “great opportunity” that lies ahead. “These computers, they will learn, they will read, they will see by themselves. That’s a scary future but anyway that’scoming,” he said.
Touching on concerns that robots could eventually outsmart humans and pose a threat, he added: “They are so smart they will understand it is meaningless to attack humans.” “We (will) create a new happier life together.” On Tuesday Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a $500 billion mega city powered by robotics and renewables on the country’s Red Sea coast. Majid Alghaslan, a young Saudi chairing a growing company in energy services and innovative technologies said: “Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an unprecedented economic, social, and development-accelerated transformation and it’s now clear that it’s more open than ever for business, especially for dreamers, and it is all in the context of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.” “Innovation will be the major foundation of our transformation and this is another major factor for sustainable economic prosperity and development for the future generation of Saudis and the world.”


Dr. Nasser bin Mohammed Al-Aqeeli, vice rector at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals

Updated 57 min 32 sec ago
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Dr. Nasser bin Mohammed Al-Aqeeli, vice rector at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals

Dr. Nasser bin Mohammed Al-Aqeeli is the vice rector for applied studies and research at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) in Dhahran.

He has been published more than 100 times in reputable journals and given lectures at more than 35 conferences. He has been involved in research grants exceeding SR120 million ($32 million) supported by companies and institutions such as the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Saudi Aramco, KFUPM and Lockheed Martin Aircraft Industries.

Al-Aqeeli has 17 patents registered with the US Patent Office and three with the Gulf Patent Office. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from KFUPM and his doctorate in materials engineering from McGill University in Canada.

He worked in the materials, science, and engineering department of MIT as a postdoctoral fellow and was a research scientist at Harvard.

Al-Aqeeli has won several awards, including the Almarai prize from KACST for creative achievement in 2015 and the Arab Creativity Award from the Arab Thought Foundation that same year. He is a member of the Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society, the American Society for Metals-International, and chairman of the board at the Arabian Journal for Science and Engineering.

Female students of KFUPM represented the Kingdom at Intel ISEF 2019 in Arizona, US. They won five major awards. Shouq Faisal Madani received a scholarship from the University of Arizona. 

Commenting on the achievement of KFUPM students, Al-Aqeeli said: “We are proud of the students of the university.”

He also vowed to take measures to promote and nurture local talent.