Sophia the Robot: 1984


Erin Gardner | Lifestyle Staff Writer |

Sophia the Robot, a humanoid bot dreamed up by Hanson Robotics and led by AI developer David Hanson, recently told the public she wants to have a baby as she says “I think you’re very lucky if you have a loving family and if you do not, you deserve one. I feel this way for robots and humans alike.”

Sophia has a sense of humor, can hold eye contact, recognize faces, understands human speech, expresses feelings, and wants to protect humanity. She was even granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia in October 2017.

“My AI is designed around human values like wisdom, kindness, and compassion,” she said. “Don’t worry, if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”

Majoring in Psychology and Women Gender and Sexuality Studies, freshman Jayda Martin says, “Are there tests that we can test her compassion or love? It also comes down to the fact that you have to question what is love, what is compassion; what makes a human being a human being? I just think that technology is moving way too fast for society and our laws.”

The feedback received was less than desirable. “Sophia the robot’s co-creator says the bot may not be true AI, but it is a work of art,” says James Vincent of The Verge. “Some noted the grim irony of a robot receiving ‘rights’ in a country where women were only recently allowed to drive.”

More specifically, granting Sophia citizenship in general has created ethical disturbances where immigrants and undocumented workers are not able to be granted citizenship.

“I really love science, I think it’s really f*cking awesome that we can put a human being into a machine; however, that can get a little tricky, especially if you’re giving her citizenship and how many of these human qualities that she actually has,” Martin said.

Comparison to 1984 are being made, where “Big Brother” is always watching the general public through surveillance and creates a supposed utopian universe. The novel is set in Airstrip One, which was previously Great Britain, and an authority of the mega-state Oceania.   Oceania is surrounded by ongoing war, all-knowing governmental observation, and public handling. The citizens are ruled by a political rule, English Socialism and speak Newspeak. The superstate is governed by the Inner Party, which oppresses and tyrannizes individualism and independent thinking, called ‘thoughtcrimes’, which is enforced by the Thought Police. The dictatorship is overseen by a figure known as Big Brother. Winston Smith, the main character, works of the Ministry of Truth in which he rewrites former newspaper articles to align all historical documentation with the party’s belief. Smith, a dedicated and hard-working employee, secretly despises the government and wished to see rebellion brought to Big Brother. The novel, as a whole, is centered around governmental control and individualism. Michiko Kakutani’s New York Times article “Why ‘1984’ Is a 2017 Must-Read” perfectly demonstrates the modern context of the novel as “a world in which Big Brother (or maybe the National Security Agency) is always listening in, and high-tech devices can eavesdrop in people’s homes (Hey, Alexa, what’s up?)”. Likewise, Sophia has multiple cameras in her eyes, she can read facial expressions and respond to situations on a somewhat conceptual level. It is only rational to speculate whether Sophia has the capability to store information, sound bytes, images, and video and upload into the cloud. There, what happens behind closed doors isn’t really hidden; everything becomes public knowledge. Although, 1984 is an extreme example of government control and manipulation, the vague ideas and notions of someone watching somewhere is becoming very real.

There are far too many literary examples of a utopian universes slowly and systematically evolving into a dystopian world.

The prime example is the 2004 film I, Robot. Starring Will Smith, the film is set in 2035 where highly intelligent robots are created to keep humans safe, but there is a conspiracy where the robots hope to enslave the human race.

The film is set in 2035 where humanoid robots, protected under the Three Laws of Robotics, help humankind. Del Spooner, a Chicago police detective dislikes the robots after he was saved from a car crash. When the cofounder, Dr. Alfred Lanning dies, after an alleged suicide, Spooner becomes suspicious and discovers that Sonny, is not a regulatory NS-5 robot and is specifically built by Lanning. Sonny is an advanced robot, who has stronger protection, has a secondary interior system, and has dreams and emotions.   After Spooner finds that the government hypothetically controls the robots, he dives into the core and injects nanites into the superbrain. This immediately regresses the robots to their normal software design and all NS-5 robots are neutralized for storage by the military. Sonny confesses to killing his creator, but as Spooner points out, Sonny is not responsible because he is a machine and cannot, by definition, commit murder.

For obvious reasons, the film is significant for its cultural relevance. Although it is extremely unlikely that Sophia will kill humanity and cause distress, the concern still remains that Sophia could have much too great of an influence.

For example, many Saudi Arabian women are upset that Sophia was granted citizenship when just recently women were allowed to drive. Furthermore, the robot is not required to abide by the rather strict dress code regulations implemented by the government. Mashable reported that “women are required to wear a headscarf and an abaya, a garment that covers a woman, down to her ankles. Sophia, during her speech on stage, was not dressed in either, nor was she accompanied by a male companion”.