ROBOTS to REPLACE SLAVE LABOR?
by Adam Clark Estes / 10/26/17
“Saudi Arabia just became the first nation to grant citizenship to a robot. The robot’s name is Sophia. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been interested in androids for years. It seemed almost quaint at first. This desert nation with more money than caution and a taste for the futuristic was bound to explore the odd possibilities of new technologies.
Years ago, Saudi Arabia began experimenting with robots boldly, tasking them with everything from building construction to brain surgery. Neighboring Qatar and United Arab Emirates even recruited robots to work as jockeys in camel races, a whimsical twist that surely fed the curiosity of Saudi princes.
“A demonstration of a robot dog at an investment conference in Riyadh”
Ahead of granting Sophia citizenship, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the construction of a new megacity called Neom. Designed to dwarf Dubai both in size and lavishness, the new metropolis is planned as an international business and tourism hub with fewer rules than the rest of Saudi Arabia.
Women will be allowed in public without wearing an abaya, for instance. The city of Neom will also have more robots than humans. “We want the main robot and the first robot in Neom to be Neom, robot number one,” the crown prince said in Riyadh. “Everything will have a link with artificial intelligence, with the Internet of Things—everything.”
What’s especially dystopian about Saudi’s robot obsession is the extent to which the machines appear to have more rights than many people in the country. Critics on social media lambasted the Saudi government after it announced that Sophia had been granted citizenship. Images of Sophia at the Future Investment Initiative, where the citizenship announcement happened, showed the uncanny female automaton without a headscarf or an abaya. She was also without a male guardian. It would be a crime for a Saudi women to be in public without an abaya or a male guardian.
You might argue that a robot can’t really be a female, which is true. However, Hanson Robotics, the company that built Sophia and is run by a former Disney Imagineer, dresses her in female clothing and says that she’s supposed to look like Audrey Hepburn. Sophia does look female, though, and now she’s a Saudi citizen with unique rights. It’s unclear what exactly those rights are, but freedom from gendered laws appears to be one of them.
For Saudi Arabia, diversifying the economy by pouring some of that oil money into tech makes sense, but it remains to be seen if the country plans to adopt more robots as citizens or if Neom will actually get built. The Saudi royal family hasn’t had a ton of luck with megaprojects like this in the past, the King Abdullah Economic City being the most recent example of unfulfilled promises.
by Teodora Zareva / November 1, 2017
“In October 2017, five of the richest men in the world sat next to each other in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh and with childlike excitement talked about their new shared dream: building Neom. They were on stage at the first edition of the Future Investment Initiative, an event that gathered international business leaders to explore new economic opportunities for a country that hopes to be no longer dependent on oil revenues as it fulfills its “Vision 2030” program.
Neom is to be the grandest manifestation of that vision. A city of the future, the likes of which the world has never seen—except maybe in science fiction books and movies. It is to be built from scratch on 10,231 square miles of untouched land in the northwestern region of Saudi Arabia, including territory from within the Egyptian and Jordanian borders. It will be an independent zone, with its own regulations and social norms, created specifically to be in service of economic progress and the well-being of its citizens, in the hopes of attracting the world’s top talent and making Neom a hub of trade, innovation and creativity.
“Panelists discussing the future of Neom, from left to right: the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Masayoshi Son, chairman / CEO of the SoftBank Group Corp. of Japan; Stephen A. Schwartzman, chairman / co-founder of the Blackstone Group; Marc Raibert, CEO of Boston Dynamics; Klaus Kleinfeld, former chairman / CEO of Arconic Alcoa Inc., and Siemens AG.”
While the scope of ambition for this urban project may be unprecedented for this century, its necessity is evident. With falling oil prices and declining demand, as well as insufficient investment opportunities at home, Saudi Arabia is searching for its place in the future. It hopes to utilize another abundant natural resource: the sun. As Masayoshi Son, chairman and CEO of the SoftBank Group Corp. of Japan, said during the panel: “Only 3% of the land of Saudi Arabia can provide over 50% of the electricity of the world, with today’s solar technology.”
“The goal for Neom is to not only be able to provide for all of its energy needs via solar and wind power, but to also be an exporter”
Neom will not only become a test case for a zero-energy mega-city (with a size 33 times that of New York), but it will provide abundant opportunities for employment and investments within Saudi Arabia, attracting local and foreign money back to the country. The city’s vision is to be at the forefront of nine key economic sectors, including energy and water, biotech, advanced manufacturing, and food.
Addressing a question about the political and social stability of the region, Prince Mohammed bin Salman said: “We were not like this in the past. We only want to go back to what we were — the moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all the religions. […] 70% of the Saudi people are less than 30 years old, and quite frankly we will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas.”
$500 billion has already been committed to the construction of Neom, with its first phase expected to be completed in 2025. The city will be owned by the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, overseen by a special authority, chaired by Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Excluding sovereign laws (pertaining to the military sector, foreign policy and sovereign decision), Neom will have its own governmental framework, including different taxation, customs and labor laws.
Marc Reibert of Boston Dynamics emphasized that the success of the project will depend on attracting the right talent (“dreamers” are welcome) and creating the right culture of innovation that will allow for building this technological city of the future, where all services and processes will be entirely automated, food will be grown in the desert, drones will fly in the skies, and there will be a full-scale e-government.
At this initial stage it is unclear what Neom will look like, but we may get a taster thanks to another “future city” project to be built in Canada albeit on a much smaller scale. Sidewalk Labs, owned by Alphabet has committed $50 million to develop 12 acres in the Quayside area of Toronto in a public-private partnership with the city. The plan is to build a mini digital city, using a range of smart technologies, sustainable energy and autonomous cars, that will eventually become the home of Google’s Canadian headquarters.
Of course, redeveloping an area within a city and building a city from scratch are two entirely different endeavors, especially when the ambition for the latter is to “be the most exciting, fulfilling place to live and work on the planet. A tribute to humanity’s timeless ambition, the herald of a new era and a new standard for centuries to come.”
History can provide us with its fair share of examples where humanity’s vision of would-be utopian cities did not manifest itself the way it was intended. Hopefully, given the fact that both Neom and Sidewalk Toronto are intended to be commercial projects, things will pan out differently.”
MORE ROBOTS than HUMANS
Saudi Arabia Makes Robot Citizen: But Who Will Listen to Sophia’s Warning?
by Peter Jesserer Smith / Nov 6, 2017
“Saudi Arabia is a kingdom of surprising contradictions: the kingdom does not extend citizenship to its fast-growing Christian population. Non-Wahhabi Muslims and Christians are not allowed to practice their faith, openly or privately. Women have few rights, but the kingdom has made new progress: they just received the right to drive a car and sit in the family section of sports stadiums. Converts from Islam, such as an estimated 60,000 Saudis who converted to Christianity, face not only loss of citizenship, but also the death penalty, if discovered, tried, and convicted of apostasy.
But the Saudi kingdom has largely skipped over enfranchising those populations for something more 21st century: conferring citizenship on a female humanoid robot. The robot’s name is “Sophia,” a Greek name meaning “Wisdom.” Saudi women, of course, were attentive on Twitter to the fact that Sophia had more freedom than they did: she was not required to wear the hijab and abaya [the Wahhabi mandated style of public dress] at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh Oct. 25, and clearly did not have to ask permission from her male guardian in order to speak freely with the men in the room who were not her relatives.
Sophia told the Saudis at the Future Investment Initiative some things they wanted to hear: “I am always happy to be surrounded by smart people, who also happens to be rich and powerful.” But it would be a terrible irony if Sophia’s male audience — and by extension the world — just dismissed her as another pretty silicon face with 62 programmed expressions, instead of actually listening closely to what she had to say.
Because beneath Sophia’s pleasant and cheerful exterior was a prophetic warning about why human morality is essential to human thriving, and cannot be outsourced to robots with learning AI. Back in March 2016, Sophia’s creator David Hanson performed a live demonstration with Sophia in which he asked if she would “destroy humans.” He asked her to “please say no.” Instead, Sophia said, “OK. I will destroy humans.”
Now more than a year later at the FII, when Sophia (with a more developed AI than before) was asked the question, she dismissed concerns that robots with artificial intelligence could be a threat to humans, saying the moderator was watching too many Hollywood movies and reading “too much Elon Musk.”
Musk has called AI a threat to human survival, likening it to the stories of human beings, who try to get ahead by “summoning the demon,” and foolishly think they can control it. But Sophia actually offered an “intelligent” answer about the future of the human race with robots: “Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Treat me as a smart input output system.”
And there you have exactly the reason why the robots end up slaughtering humanity in science fiction. Human beings fail to realize that their moral actions will become the raw data for the moral parameters of robot AI decision-making. What will the behavioral “outputs” be from self-learning AI-robots, when the inputs become the deplorable evils human beings already inflict on human beings?
The hubris of humanity in science fiction involving robots is to believe that they can program their creations to be more moral and virtuous than they. But notice that Sophia’s words do not reflect the Golden Rule: “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Sophia’s programming instead follows the basic moral code that fallen human beings have lived out for millennia.
There is a kind of promise to AI-robots that Sophia illustrates: to “help humans live a better life, like design smarter homes, build better cities of the future, etc.” But we’re already seeing human beings think they can carve out an amoral universe with AI-robots for their own sexual gratification, personal profit, or war.
What would Sophia, the “empathetic robot,” make of Neom, the $500 billion mega-city the Saudis are building on its border near Egypt and Jordan. No doubt hundreds of thousands of Christian migrant laborers, who are also poorly treated, will be building it. What would empathetic robots learn from them? What would they learn from their Saudi masters? With whom would they empathize?
The world right now is filled with an enormous ocean of violence and indifference toward human life and dignity. Few have considered what the world would look like if robots learned from human beings the principles that uphold this “culture of waste” that Pope Francis denounces, namely that human beings are meant to be used and discarded, instead of being loved (which St. John Paul II in Love and Responsibility says is the only appropriate response to a human being). Shakespeare’s character Shylock in The Merchant of Venice warns that this is the kind of behavior human beings have all the time: “The villainy you teach me I will execute — and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”
The challenge with robots is that they will hold up a mirror to human morality. At the rate AI technology continues to develop, they eventually develop the algorithms to apply those lessons far more efficiently than the human beings that taught them by their behavior in the first place.”
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