Robots are Getting More Advanced — and Much More Dangerous


Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Tommy Pratt, Staff Writer

In October of this year, Saudi Arabia awarded citizenship to a humanoid robot named Sophia, created by the Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics. It is the first robot to have ever been awarded a legal citizenship. This is a dangerously large step in advancing robots to the status of humans. Sophia does not deserve our respect as a human—or any other living thing—because, though it accomplishes the task of seeming human incredibly well, it is not one.

As I write this, it’s difficult for me to refer to the robot as “it” instead of “she.” Sophia dresses like a real person and has an emotive face covered with “skin,” as well as arms and legs. However, its smile and expressions often look unsettlingly false.

Sophia was a keynote speaker at a United Nations conference in Geneva in June 2017, where it stressed the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) to humanity in avenues like working with elderly or disabled people and bringing better healthcare and education to rural communities.

I laud these goals in principle, but the solution of using robots only contributes more to the ever-growing problem of automation. In business, there are already some instances of robots in the mainstream. They have replaced humans in factories, banks, and retail, to name a few examples.

While these robots are designed to perform only a very limited set of functions, they’ve already taken millions of jobs. A popular figure is that five million jobs in manufacturing alone have been lost to automation since 2000.

Even more frightening,  there are already robots that can replace humans in fields that were once considered quintessentially human. Robots have been able to write music and stories that most people can’t distinguish from those written by a human. Some AIs are even able to delegate tasks and make decisions based on the changing world around them, like a corporate CEO. While no robot has yet shown is a capacity for improvisation—acting outside its programming, that is—it still doesn’t seem too far-fetched too imagine that if robots are not respected as humans in a society, a few influential robots could go rogue and take over.

The potential for a legitimate robot takeover will always be there if robots are ingrained into our society. So what can we as a society do?

One of the best options seems to be legislation. National governments and the UN need to recognize that the risks of further integrating AI will greatly outweigh the benefits, and they should ban the creation of robots that could replace any more jobs than they already have. Of course, this change will not happen immediately or even soon—it’s barely being debated—and in the interim, robots will continue to advance. But we are long overdue to slow the progress of automation, especially considering the number of people who have already lost their jobs.

Hopefully creepy-looking AIs like Sophia will become notorious before companies have a chance to design more acceptable ones that are indistinguishable from humans. This may be our last chance to make the public aware of this problem before it’s beyond fixing.