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Artificial intelligence: are robots eligible for citizenship?

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

Last year, the world was shocked when Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a robot named Sophia, thereby unintentionally shedding light on the citizenship situation in Saudi Arabia: the new citizen robot was said to effectively hold more rights than most Saudi women as well as the resident migrant workers who have been denied citizenship for generations. Having previously reported on algorithmic citizenship, AI too is increasingly attracting the attention of the humanities. Henry Kissinger, whose concerns have only grown the more he learned about the subject (perhaps inspired by articles explaining that no one knows how the most advanced algorithms do what they do), wonders in The Atlantic about the impact on history of self-learning machines who apply their knowledge ‘to ends for which there may be no category of human understanding’ and create a world ‘ungoverned by ethical or philosophical norms’. The difference with automation, in Kissinger’s view, which deals with means as it achieves prescribed objectives through rationalization, is that AI, by contrast, establishes its own objectives and therefore deals with ends.

Kissinger’s conclusion can be read as a plea for more exchange between the technological world, the humanities and broader society to develop a vision on the role of AI. This starts, of course, with citizens knowing what AI is about and being able to reflect on its implications. They are now greatly helped by the University of Helsinki, which since May this year offers a free online course in English on ‘what is possible (and not possible) with AI, and how it affects our lives – with no complicated math or programming required’.

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