A robot with Saudi citizenship? It’s the latest surreal scene from the kingdom’s “Davos in the Desert,” where Saudi Arabia’s leaders have been attempting to impress their economic ambitions upon the rest of the world. In a three-day event that has already seen the country announce its intent to build an entirely new city — called Neom — from scratch, the announcement that a robot named Sophia has been granted Saudi citizenship stands apart.
Alongside a holographic lion and a virtual rollercoaster, the robot has been on display at the Future Investment Initiative held by Saudi Public Investment Fund this week.“Thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said the robot, named Sophia, when she learnt of her ostensible citizenship. “It is historic to be the first robot in the world granted citizenship.”
The announcement could be controversial among conservative Saudis, many of whom believe that representation of the human form, even in art or on a mannequin, is sacrilegious. Citizenship is also a carefully guarded benefit in the kingdom, which does not grant it to foreign workers who make up about a third of the population — even to some families who have been there for generations — or to the children of Saudi women and foreign men. In a statement, the Saudi government’s Center for International Communication described the citizenship as “no laughing matter.”