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Position Statement on the Socio-Legal Context of Sophia The Robot

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

Submitted by Sarmad Ahmad, Research Intern on the social and legal value of Sophia, the robot developed by Hanson Robotics.

  • Sophia is the world’s first social humanoid robot created by Hanson Robotics. The robot was first activated in February 2016 and has since then become a sensation; receiving international media coverage, becoming the first robot ambassador of the United Nations Development Programme, and has been declared the first robot-citizen, being granted citizenship by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

  • Beyond the legal sphere, the domains of philosophy, ethics and cognitive psychology put forward more concerns for consideration towards the ascertaining of AI personhood, such as the existence of consciousness and whether its occurrence is necessary to the granting of this legal status.

  • Sophia was built with the intention of carrying out social responsibilities, by being a companion to elders at nursing homes or facilitating large crowds at social events. Sophia’s software incorporates the use of many machine learning algorithms; visual data processing and facial recognition to understand its surroundings and the expressions of humans around it, voice recognition to comprehend conversations, and speech-to-text synthesis to generate responses and conversations of its own. AI is also used to assess the data of past conversations to manifest better responses in the future and essentially learn from its conversational mistakes.

  • While Hanson Robotics calls Sophia the personification of the potential of AI, Sophia’s hardware is essentially a platform incorporating three broad bodies of software; Timeline Editor, which runs entirely on pre-programmed scripting, Sophisticated Chat System, which actively seeks out catch-phrases or patterns of speech to generate responses, and OpenCog, the only software with its foundations in AI, which enables Sophia to provide answers based out of experiences and reasoning. In other words, OpenCog consists of the various algorithms within Sophia that assess and analyse data to generate an outcome on their own. OpenCog is the only aspect of Sophia that can be understood to be assessing and self-learning in its nature.

  • It is questionable as to whether Sophia's rights and duties are similar to those of other human citizens. Furthermore, it is unexplained as to how she can exercise her rights and perform her duties as a citizen. The unprecedented decision of granting citizenship to Sophia has been a publicity campaign to attract investors rather than showing genuine concern about rights, duties and personhood of robots.

  • However, there exists a disparity between various AI experts on whether Sophia truly represents the present day epitome of AI technology. Hanson Robotics chief scientist and CTO Ben Goertzel says that Sophia is a mesh of robotics and chatbot software, but with a lot of AI research and development directing the potential of what Sophia is yet to be. While Sophia is not a manifestation of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), it is the closest demonstration of what could be expected out of an AGI’s internal workings. This is so because Sophia is essentially a string of Artificial Narrow Intelligent (ANI) algorithms; each of them adept at one task that continuously feeds data to one another.

  • On the contrary, various experts also comment that Sophia is nothing but chat software with a face, and any instances of AI within it is arguably negligible. This doesn’t negate the software utilised by it that was created by Hanson Robotics, neither does it consider it trivial.

  • Regardless, with it being granted Saudi-Arabian citizenship and becoming the first robot-citizen of the world, conversations have already sparked between various industrial experts; what does exactly robot citizenship constitute? This conversation has highlighted a lack of consensus on a concept of legal personhood for AI and has even highlighted the discussion of whether legal personhood of AI should be an acknowledged concept in the first place. The determination of such a concept would essentially require the ascertaining of various legal parameters; rights and responsibilities of an AI, the scope of liability of an AI, regulations governing the conduct of an AI, the creation of regulations concerned with accountability and AI governance in general.

  • Beyond the legal sphere, the domains of philosophy, ethics and cognitive psychology put forward more concerns for consideration towards the ascertaining of AI personhood, such as the existence of consciousness and whether its occurrence is necessary to the granting of this legal status.

  • While legal experts of various nation-states ponder upon and discuss these parameters, or even argue about the necessities of such a jurisprudential philosophy, Sophia’s current endeavours revolve around the promotion and marketing of various consumer products. It is needless to say that regardless of a potential future with or without “artificial personhood”, what has to be taken into consideration anytime is not only the capability and capacity of an AI but the human intention behind its actions as well.

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The Indian Society of Artificial Intelligence and Law is a technology law think tank founded by Abhivardhan in 2018. Our mission as a non-profit industry body for the analytics & AI industry in India is to promote responsible development of artificial intelligence and its standardisation in India.


Since 2022, the research operations of the Society have been subsumed under VLiGTA® by Indic Pacific Legal Research.

ISAIL has supported two independent journals, namely - the Indic Journal of International Law and the Indian Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Law. It also supports an independent media and podcast initiative - The Bharat Pacific.

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