4 Questions We Have For Saudi Arabia About Its Newest, Most Robotic Citizen

Was a robot just granted more rights than half the country's population?

Saudi Arabia has officially granted citizenship to Sophia the robot, a humanoid bot who earned fame after beating Jimmy Fallon in a rock-paper-scissors match on national television. At the Future Investment Initiative, a local tech summit, Sophia was granted citizenship in front of a crowd of wealthy Saudis interested in investing in the country's future. 

"Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Sophia said at the ceremony. "It is historic to be the first robot in the world granted citizenship."


But her citizenship, and how she was presented, raise a plethora of questions for a country which has a poor women's rights record. Here are just a few.

Will Sophia have to wear a headscarf?

In the ceremony announcing her citizenship, Sophia was not wearing a headscarf, which, if she was a human woman, would be against Saudi law. This immediately caught the eye of civil rights advocates: will a robot be granted more flexibility in their manner of dress than actual women living in Saudi Arabia? 

Will Sophia require a male guardian?

As The Washington Post reported, Sophia made her comments to media present without a male guardian, which women must have in Saudi Arabia.  It once again begs the question: will this robot be granted freedom real women in Saudi Arabia don't currently enjoy?

"Women [in Saudi Arabia] have since committed suicide because they couldn't leave the house, and Sophia is running around," Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, said to Newsweek. "Saudi law doesn't allow non-Muslims to get citizenship. Did Sophia convert to Islam? What is the religion of this Sophia and why isn't she wearing hijab? If she applied for citizenship as a human, she wouldn't get it."

Will Sophia be able to drive?

It's unclear whether the humanoid robot has acquired this skill yet, but it seems relevant to recent events. After all, it was just weeks ago that the Saudi king issued a decree allowing Saudi women to drive for the first time. Will Sophia be granted those rights immediately, or will she have to wait decades like the real women in Saudi Arabia did?

Will Sophia be able to open a bank account?

It took years for women to be able to find a handful of jobs they could get without men's permission in Saudi Arabia, but they still can't manage their own finances without permission. What about Sophia? 

These are just a few worthwhile questions for the government of Saudi Arabia. As The Verge pointed out, the declaration of Sophia's citizenship seems to set back human rights progress in the kingdom. Will she be for sale? Are we now allowing a citizen to be sold? And what about the third of Saudi Arabia's population that are migrant workers and don't have citizenship? Are they less valuable (or less a part of Saudi Arabia's cultural fabric) than a robot?

Suffice it to say that we're curious to see what Sophia does next.


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