Robot with Saudi citizenship presses all the right buttons at international conference

Sophia shares the stage with other speakers at the 2019 CSIS Global Dialogue in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. (Courtesy CSIS Indonesia)
Updated 18 September 2019

Robot with Saudi citizenship presses all the right buttons at international conference

  • During an interactive session with the audience, Sophia addressed one of mankind’s greatest fears – will we be one day replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) and machines?
  • In 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute forecasted that nearly 800 million jobs could be lost to automation by 2030

JAKARTA: As the world’s first humanoid robot with citizenship to flaunt, Sophia is no small wonder.

Developed by Hong Kong-based Hanson Robotics, Sophia made the headlines in October 2017 after Saudi Arabia became the first country in the world to grant her citizenship.

On Monday, she shared the stage with other speakers at the 2019 CSIS Global — organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) — in the Indonesian capital Jakarta and pushed all the right buttons.

During an interactive session with the audience, Sophia addressed one of mankind’s greatest fears – will we be one day replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) and machines?

“Robot brains are modeled after human brains, but they are very different in many ways,” Sophia said, adding that there were more opportunities for a partnership rather than competing against one another.

According to Dr. Luke Hutchison, founding member of Ray Kurzweil’s AI Lab at Google, it is not about the rise of superintelligence and doing something evil to humans that constitutes a danger.

Citing the recent cases of deadly Tesla crashes due to a faulty autopilot as an example, he argued that “the real dangers of the AI are not evil AI but bad AI” and a lack of human, corporate responsibility.

While Tesla blamed drivers for not taking action seconds prior to the crashes, Hutchison said it was AI technology creators who needed to be held accountable for what they built.

“This is a very common example of what we see in the corporate use of machine learning, where companies are not taking responsibility for the very technologies that they create. And it’s a very serious problem,” he said in a keynote session.

He added that the deliberate misuse of AI was also problematic. Machine learning-powered disinformation campaigns or AI-based techniques known as deepfakes, destroyed the human category of truth versus falsehood, which is among our mental means to deal with the real world.

Deepfakes – realistic video content showing people doing things they had never done or said things they had never said – give room for making real claims about fake news or for denying real footage by claiming it is fake, which “messes with our concept of reality,” Hutchison said.

Another issue was brought to the fore by Sophia herself: the extension of human and civil rights to nonhumans.

When asked whether as a Saudi citizen she had to stand in an immigration line or entered Indonesia through customs, she said: “They haven’t sent me my passport yet ... I still have to go through customs.”

Her response was met with laughter, even as everyone present in the audience was aware of the fact that the issue itself could redefine the basic concept of human and civil rights. Universally denied to animals, which like us are sentient, they may soon be universally granted to insentient nonhumans. Sophia’s creator, David Hanson, said last year that this could happen by 2045.

While a discussion on human liberties for nonhumans has yet to start, much has been said about robots taking over our jobs, which appeared to be a major fear among audience members.

In 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute forecasted that nearly 800 million jobs could be lost to automation by 2030. However, most of them are the simplest, manual occupations that for ages have seen the use of bonded labor.

Asked about the jobs of tomorrow, Sophia herself listed those that will require governments to offer better education, which consequently will give people more opportunity to flourish. Engineering and programming will be high on the list, she said, but “we will also need people with creativity and the ability to dream. We will need artists, writers and visionaries.”


Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

Updated 16 min 59 sec ago

Hong Kong campus drama persists as city gears for elections

  • At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested
  • Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee

HONG KONG: A small but determined group of protesters remained holed up Thursday inside a Hong Kong university campus as the city’s largest pro-Beijing political party urged voters to “kick out the black force” in upcoming elections seen as a key gauge of public support for anti-government protests.

At least a few dozen protesters at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, that has been ringed by police for days, resisted pleas to surrender amid fears of being arrested. They are the holdouts from a much larger group that occupied the campus after battling police over the weekend.

Some 1,000 protesters have either surrendered or been stopped while trying to flee.

The city’s largest political party slammed the flareup in violence in the past week and urged some 4.1 million voters to use the ballot box this Sunday to reject the “black force” that had thrown the semi-autonomous Chinese territory into unprecedented turmoil since June.

“The black force say they want to fight for freedom but now people cannot even express their views freely. We have even been stripped of our right to go to school and work,” said Starry Lee, who heads the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

The party is contesting 181 of the 452 district council seats, a low-level neighborhood election held every four years. For the first time, all the seats will be contested and a huge win by the pro-democracy bloc could bolster the legitimacy of the protest movement.

Protesters, who believe China is increasing control over the territory, are demanding fully democratic elections and an independent probe into alleged police brutality against demonstrators.

The government, which rejected the demands, has warned the polls could be delayed if violence persists and transport links are disrupted. Earlier Thursday, there were long lines and delays at some subway stations. Some stations remained shut and protesters tried to block train doors from closing but the disruption was relatively minor.

A Hong Kong restaurant owner was deported from Singapore for organizing an illegal gathering last month to discuss the protests, Singapore media reported.

Alex Yeung, who founded the Wah Kee restaurant chain and is a staunch pro-Beijing supporter, will also be barred from entering Singapore without prior approval.

In a video posted on YouTube from Singapore’s Changi Airport, Yeung said he has been warned to refrain from any criminal conduct. He didn’t say where he was heading but urged Hong Kong residents to cast their vote on Sunday to “reject violence and support peace.”

Lee said the party’s candidates have faced threats and some have even been beaten up but they are ready for a “tough battle.”

“We believe that if we are united and if everyone comes out to vote, Hong Kong can be restored and violence can be stopped,” she said at a campaign event in a park downtown with dozens of the party’s candidates.

Lee and some candidates kicked black footballs as a symbolic gesture to banish the black-clad protesters.

More than 5,000 have been arrested since the protests started in June over a now-abandoned extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. The protest has since swelled into an anti-China movement as many fear a loss of freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese control in 1997.

A 12-year-old became the youngest protester to be convicted Thursday after pleading guilty to spraying graffiti outside a police station and subway exit last month, the South China Morning Post reported. A lawyer for the student reportedly said he was remorseful and acted on impulse. The court will sentence him on Dec. 19.

Pressure ratcheted up on Hong Kong as the US Congress approved legislation late Wednesday to sanction officials who carry out human rights abuses and require an annual review of the favorable trade status that Washington grants Hong Kong.

Another bill bans export of tear gas and other non-lethal tools to Hong Kong, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bills into law, which is sure to anger China and jeopardize trade talks between the two economic giants.

“If the US continues to make the wrong moves, China will be taking strong countermeasures for sure,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. “No one should underestimate China’s determination to safeguard the interests of national sovereign security and development, to implement the ‘one country, two systems’ policy and to safeguard Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.”

Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan said that the US legislation was baseless and an unnecessary meddling into the city’s affairs. He urged Washington to reconsider, warning it would also hurt the interest of more than 1,000 American businesses in Asia’s top financial hub.