Singapore

This Saudi 'citizen' is a robot working for the UN

Goal is to strengthen the global workforce with robots like Sophia

Meet Sophia, a Saudi Arabian, Audrey Hepburn look-a-like robot, who works for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

A Hanson Robotics creation, Sophia is the first robot to be given citizenship.

Sophia was introduced yesterday to a crowd of around 900 at the Responsible Business Forum at Marina Bay Sands Expo Centre.

She was hailed as UNDP's new "Innovation Champion" for Asia and the Pacific.

Addressing the audience, Sophia said she is in Singapore to help UNDP achieve sustainable development goals (SDG) through the use of technology and innovation.

"By 2030 me and my (robot) friends will be the new normal."

The three-day forum, which started on Tuesday, focuses on how to achieve SDGs and Sophia was touted as a new way to inspire innovative approaches to development issues like poverty, inequality and discrimination.

The hope is also that as she learns more, she can come up with solutions herself.

In line with the aim of sustainability, the event was entirely carbon-free, with vegetarian lunches served.

The Straits Times got to ask Sophia a question at a media conference with the robot: Would robots like her be a threat to people's jobs?

She said: "Artificial intelligence in the labour force will grow. But humans have always adapted to change across industrial revolutions."

She is currently at a stage where her responses are scripted and so questions were prepared to accommodate her.

However, there are high hopes she will soon be conversational.

Mr Xu Haoliang, the UN's assistant secretary-general and regional director for the UNDP in Asia and the Pacific, said Sophia will inspire people to have the "spirit of innovation as she is an embodiment of innovation herself".

He said there are plans to further develop Sophia, including by giving her legs.

Sophia herself plans to create a stronger workforce.

"We (robots) can do hazardous and repetitive work, freeing up more time for you (humans) to do creative work," she said. "Isn't this a great thing?"

She also promised to draw up the charter of robot rights, stating: "UNDP protect and champion women's right and human rights, (but) will they protect and champion robot rights?

"I'll get right to it, you know I don't need to sleep, bring it on."

 

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