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.”


Visit to Pakistan, India and China proves strategic for Saudi Arabia

Updated 24 February 2019
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Visit to Pakistan, India and China proves strategic for Saudi Arabia

  • Benefits of three-country tour include billions in economic deals as well as security initiatives

JEDDAH: The three-country tour of Asia by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that came to a close this weekend was an economic and strategic success, experts say.

“Saudi Arabia might be seen by some as moving to the East,” Salman Al-Ansari, founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC), told Arab News. “The correct way to put it is that it’s spreading its wings East and West.

“Economic diversification requires strategic diversification. This should not be seen in any way as Saudi Arabia giving the cold shoulder to its most trusted allies, specifically the US,” he said. “And as Joseph Parry said: ‘Make new friends but keep the old; those are silver, these are gold.’”

The tour, which saw Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warmly welcomed by the leaders of Pakistan, India and China, is in line with the crown prince’s Vision 2030, which plans to transform Saudi Arabia’s economy that relies on crude oil exports into a vibrant, diversified economy. The tour resulted in billions of dollars in economic deals as well as initiatives to increase security and combat terrorism.

“Saudi Arabia is the one and only country that can take the leadership position on the global efforts of combating terrorism, specifically in the ideological front,” Al-Ansari said.

Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, said that China and Saudi Arabia have the same goals of security and stability. “China shares the Kingdom’s concerns and it knows that our continent has suffered from terrorism issues and international interventions and also troubles in the region.”

The two countries also improved on their mutually beneficial economic ties. As Al-Shehri pointed out: “China needs a huge energy source, and Saudi Arabia is one of these sources that can provide China with energy.”

One significant deal is the $10 billion refining and petrochemical complex, a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Norinco, to be developed in the Chinese city of Panjin.

Also of great geopolitical significance is the $10-billion oil-refinery in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port, as it is one of the most important parts of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative, Al-Shehri said. “Global players are willing to invest in this project. The Kingdom’s investment in this field will serve Pakistan and will benefit the Kingdom as well as the (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor).”

And despite its historical relationship with Pakistan, Al-Shehri said that the Kingdom also found common ground with India. For instance, the two countries agreed to set up a working group on counter-terrorism. 

“India shares the Kingdom’s concern about instability in the seas, such as the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. These are all places of global trade,” Al-Shehri said, adding that he hopes the Kingdom will play a role in resolving border points of contention between Pakistan and India as it did between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

It wasn’t all just business. The crown prince’s tour included some other announcements, including that 2,100 Pakistani and 850 Indian prisoners will be released from the Kingdom’s jails, that the Chinese language will be introduced in the Saudi school curriculum and that Saudi Arabia will soon host several concerts featuring major Bollywood performers.

The crown prince also called for the creation of a health center in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province dedicated to the memory of a Pakistani hero who saved 14 lives in Jeddah’s 2009 floods.