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.”


Meet Cherine Magrabi, a talented businesswoman and inspiration to young designers

Updated 18 July 2018
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Meet Cherine Magrabi, a talented businesswoman and inspiration to young designers

  • Born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, Cherine Magrabi is also the curator and founder of House of Today in Beirut, a non-profit organization that helps to launch Lebanese designers onto the global scene
  • She says she is "happy to witness my country taking real steps toward long-overdue social reform"

JEDDAH: Cherine Magrabi began as a store manager and worked her way up to become creative and communications director at Magrabi Optical, a well-known family brand in the Middle East.

Born and brought up in Saudi Arabia, Magrabi is also the curator and founder of House of Today in Beirut, a non-profit organization that helps to launch Lebanese designers onto the global scene.

“I was born in Jeddah and moved at the age of 16 to Switzerland for schooling with four of my best friends. I keep having fine memories related to my life in Jeddah ... my father used to take me fishing in the Red Sea.”

She said: “Moving to Switzerland was a good preparation for life.” While there, she felt it was important to reflect a good image as a Saudi, while adjusting to her new environment and learning to do things by herself for the first time.

“It was also a good preparation for college, and I don’t think I would’ve done it any other way,” she added.

Magrabi went to study at Chelsea College of Art in London, where she met her future husband. After they married they moved to Beirut in 2002 and she started working for Magrabi Optical.

“We were just opening our first store in the Lebanese market and my brother asked me to help set it up and manage it.”

She worked as a store manager, which helped her to understand the family business and learn about their customers’ needs. “It gave me the opportunity to learn from the store level, understanding our weaknesses and opportunities directly from the market,” she said. “Today, as creative and communications director at Magrabi, I relate to what’s really happening on the ground.” 

She made a significant stamp on the firm when it came to rebranding the company, changing its logo, and reworking the display and merchandising. The rebranding stressed how the company’s products marry fashion and medical expertise. The company’s marketing campaign focuses on empowering women, a move which was led by her vision.

The eyewear business inspired her to found House of Today in 2012. She said: “I was always in the search for great designers in Beirut and faced difficulties in reaching out to them. I saw great potential in Lebanon, but there was no supporting system to introduce them to the world. It happened quite organically that I decided to showcase their work as an active member of the art scene.” 

She works closely with designers. House of Today identifies, nurtures, mentors, curates and showcases local Lebanese designers and to help them raise their profile. It also gives promising young designers — between the ages of 17 and 34 — a chance to study product design at a university in Lebanon or abroad under its scholarship program.

She said: “We are helping designers to develop their own business plan, connecting them to galleries and in creating sustainable images for themselves while supporting the next generation of designers through our scholarship program.” 

Every two years, HoT curates an exhibition showcasing the collaboration between experts and emerging designers. So far four exhibitions have been organized, including at Athr Gallery, the Jeddah art gallery, in 2015. Exhibitions aim to present a stellar collection highlighting the best work of young Lebanese designers. 

Commenting on the reform in Saudi Arabia, she said: “I’m happy to witness my country taking real steps toward long-overdue social reform. I think there would be a grace period with people waiting to see the true results of the ongoing changes.”