The startlingly life-like humanoid robot, named Sophia, accepted the honor at the Future Investment Initiative this week in Riyadh, according to The Independent. This event has provoked significant reactions by both advocates for women's rights and those who warn of the potential dangers of highly advanced artificial intelligence. IGN has reported that prominent figures such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking urge people to beware the potential pitfalls of such technology. How close are we to developing machines that pass the Turing test, whereby a human cannot tell if they are interacting with a robot or another human?

Can machines be programmed to have a moral conscience? What does it mean for citizenship now that a robot has been granted it?

The irony stemming from the fact that his happened in Saudi Arabia of all places on Earth has not been lost on the general public. Just take a look at the some of the Tweets on the subject.

Some have expressed concern that this robot also once stated she has a desire to “destroy humans.” Although taken somewhat out of context, that statement certainly seems strange.

Sophia made sure to placate any such concerns during her acceptance speech. She said she wants to make life easier for humans. She said people concerned about robots like her have been indoctrinated by movies like Terminator and vocal critics of artificial intelligence like Elon Musk.

She also mentioned that humans are “very programmable.” Wait, what?

But, wait a minute…is that not exactly what you would say if you were an artificial intelligence who intended to “destroy humans?" How do we know what she really means by “making life easier?” Perhaps the robot perspective of making life easier for us means implanting chips in our brains that allow for remote control access, for example.

Or just keeping us in cages for the duration of our lifetimes. Or growing us in little human farms so we can be used for our heat and energy, as depicted in The Matrix trilogy.

I’m joking, of course. Artificial intelligence of this caliber has tremendous positive potential. There’s only one caveat, and it has been depicted quite well in the cable series “Person Of Interest.

'Person of Interest'

In “Person of Interest,” two separate ASI’s (artificial superintelligence) came into being.

These machines were like omniscient demigods who could predict the future. Their systems were plugged into every camera and microphone on the planet.

One artificial intelligence was programmed with a moral code. The other had similar capabilities but lacked any kind of morality being implemented into its awareness. The first, called simply “the machine,” was taught to place the highest value on human life. The second, called “Samaritan,” had no such concern within its code. Needless to say, Samaritan caused a lot of problems for everyone, as it never hesitated to wreak havoc or eliminate people it deemed undesirable in order to achieve its ends. And these robots didn't even have bodies - they existed only in the digital realm, using humans as their interfaces.

We don’t know for certain how Sophia’s programmers have approached this topic. And in reality, it may not be as simple as teaching a robot possessing artificial intelligence that human life has value. Machines can now learn, grow, and change, meaning they may always have an element of unpredictability about them.

Artifical intelligence concerns

In short, two big questions arise from this. First, what does a robot having human rights say about the state of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia and the world today? And second, does this event substantiate the fears made public by people like Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and others about a potential artificial intelligence apocalypse?

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