How Many Robots Have Citizenship?

Robots Citizenship

In an essay by Jorge Luis Borges called “The Sphere of Pascal,” he talks about how Xenophanes, a Greek philosopher, was fed up with the gods portrayed as humans in Homer’s poetry. Instead, Xenophanes suggested that just one god should be envisioned as an eternal sphere, not some human-like figure.

Over time, the idea caught on, and the overly human-gods were seen more as poetic tales than actual divine beings.

And it’s not just ancient gods being portrayed as human-like. Take Sophia, for example, a robot with artificial intelligence made by Hanson Robotics. Saudi Arabia even granted it citizenship in 2017.

While Sophia impressed many with its answers during interviews, it’s essentially just following a script programmed into it.

Like Borges’ idea, robotics doesn’t always have to mimic humans. Think about Roomba, the round robot vacuum. It doesn’t chat like Sophia, but its ability to move around and clean up can make people attach feelings to it, like giving it a name and feeling bad if it gets stuck somewhere.

While there used to be a clear line between humans and robots, that’s changing. Robots are becoming more integrated into our lives, working as caregivers for the elderly, helping children with autism, doing surgery, making deliveries, or providing security.

But because we’re still figuring out this technology’s legal and ethical implications, the law sometimes has to rely on old ideas and metaphors. For instance 2017, the European Parliament suggested treating advanced robots almost like electronic persons.

This article will explore the current landscape, implications, challenges, and case scenarios of granting citizenship to robots and investigate how many robots have citizenship.

The First Robot Citizen: Sophia and the Controversy of Robot Citizenship

Sophia, the humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics, gained significant attention in 2017 when Saudi granted her citizenship. This move sparked both fascination and controversy, raising questions about the nature of AI, citizenship, and the rights and responsibilities that come with it.

On one hand, Sophia represents a remarkable achievement in artificial intelligence and robotics. She can engage in conversations, express emotions through facial expressions, and even make jokes.

Her appearance, designed to resemble that of a human woman, adds to the intrigue surrounding her capabilities. Sophia’s creators see her as a platform for exploring the potential of AI to assist humans in various tasks, from customer service to healthcare.

At the same time, the decision to grant Sophia citizenship also invited scrutiny and criticism. Some argued it was merely a public stunt, questioning the meaningfulness of granting citizenship to a non-human entity.

Critics pointed out the irony of a country with limited rights for its human citizens granting citizenship to a robot. Additionally, concerns were raised about the ethical implications of treating AI entities as if they were on par with human beings.

The case of Sophia’s citizenship highlights broader societal debates about the relationship between humans and technology. Questions about AI entities’ legal and moral status will become increasingly pressing as AI advances.

Should robots like Sophia be afforded rights and responsibilities similar to humans? How do we ensure that AI is developed and used in a way that aligns with human values and ethics? These are complex issues that require careful consideration and deliberation.

Current Landscape of Robot Citizenship

Presently, there are only a few robots with citizenship. However, some countries – aside from Saudi Arabia – have considered granting citizenship to robots. In Japan, an artificial intelligence named ‘Boy’ Shibuya Mirai has become the world’s first AI Bot to be granted residency.

This decision to make Mirai an official resident is part of a project to make Tokyo’s government more familiar and accessible to locals. The chatty seven-year-old is designed to listen to the opinions of Shibuya residents.

The European Union has also considered giving “electronic personhood” to advanced robots. This would mean treating them almost like legal persons with certain rights and responsibilities.

However, it’s not just about granting citizenship. Some countries are also looking into the legal status of robots. For example, in the United States, there’s an ongoing debate about whether robots should have legal rights and how they should be regulated.

Besides, the idea of robot citizenship is still new and rare. But with advancements in AI and robotics, and with us as humans being susceptible to accord emotions to things, it is something that more countries might start considering in the future.

Implications and Challenges in a World with Citizen Robots

There is a significant debate around the idea of granting citizenship to robots. One central question is, what rights and responsibilities would these robot citizens have?

Would they be eligible to vote or get married? Traditionally, these privileges are reserved for humans. Still, if robots are considered legal persons, they may also be entitled to these rights.

Defining identity

The idea of granting citizenship to robots is a significant step forward. Still, we may need to prepare for it. As robotics and autonomous systems are advancing, there are several obstacles we must overcome before we can trust robots with citizenship.

Firstly, the concept of identity becomes complicated when applied to robots. While human citizenship is based on unique physical traits like fingerprints or iris scans, defining a robot’s identity poses a more significant challenge.

Is it solely a matter of hardware specifications, such as a barcode or a MAC address? Or does it encompass a broader range, including the robot’s experiences and interactions? This question still needs to be answered, highlighting the issue’s complexity.

Social Rights

In addition, granting social rights to robots raises many uncharted ethical dilemmas. For instance, with Sophia’s citizenship, would she be allowed to marry or have children?

And if other robots were to follow suit, what would be the implications for the dynamics of society? Could they surpass the human population in number and wield significant influence over legislative affairs?

Legal Rights

The issue of granting citizenship to robots poses legal challenges that are equally complex. For example, suppose a robot like Sophia is granted the right to vote. Who would be the one to exercise that privilege- Sophia herself or her creators?

Concerns such as taxation and legal protection need to be addressed. These are essential questions that require careful consideration and resolution.

Public Perception and Criticisms Towards Robot Citizenship

Public Opinion

The idea of granting citizenship to robots is met with varying public attitudes. Some people find it fascinating and a sign of progress and technological advancement. They view robots as valuable members of society capable of contributing meaningfully.

On the other hand, some individuals are skeptical or outright opposed to the idea. They may feel uneasy about treating robots as legal persons, which blurs the boundaries between humans and machines. There may also be fears about the potential consequences of granting non-human entities rights and privileges.


Granting robots citizenship has been criticized as a mere publicity stunt or a hollow gesture. Critics argue that such actions generate buzz for companies or organizations rather than addressing genuine societal needs or concerns.

Further, skeptics have questioned the practicality and feasibility of robot citizenship. They point out the need for clear criteria or standards for determining the rights and responsibilities of robotic citizens and argue that legal and ethical complexities need to be adequately addressed. This makes the concept of robot citizenship premature or ill-conceived.

Robot Citizenship as a Driver for Technological Innovation: The Case of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia’s strategy in granting citizenship to Sophia, the humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics, can be understood within its broader economic diversification efforts and ambitions to attract AI and robotics companies.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has actively pursued economic diversification to reduce its dependency on oil revenues. Central to this strategy is the investment in emerging technologies, a visible demonstration of Saudi Arabia’s commitment to technological innovation, positioning the country as a leading hub for regional AI and robotics development.

In addition, the move likely aims to capture international attention and attract investment from AI and robotics companies worldwide.

The country seeks to signal its openness to collaboration and partnership in the AI and robotics sector by showcasing Sophia as a symbol of Saudi Arabia’s embrace of cutting-edge technology.

Looking Ahead: The Future Contours of Robot Citizenship

The future of robot citizenship remains uncertain, influenced by technological advancements, societal norms, and regulatory frameworks.

On the one hand, we can visualize a future where robots are seamlessly integrated into society, granted legal personhood and rights akin to humans. This vision acknowledges the potential for robots to contribute meaningfully to various aspects of life, from labor to companionship.

Skeptics warn against the consequences of blurring the lines between humans and machines. They raise concerns about the ethical and practical challenges of granting legal status to non-human entities, including accountability, autonomy, and discrimination issues.

The debate around robot citizenship reflects more extensive concerns about the impact of technology on society and the need to navigate these changes thoughtfully.

In time, the future of robot citizenship depends on our ability to strike a balance between harnessing the potential of technology for the betterment of society while upholding fundamental principles of ethics, justice, and human dignity.

It is a journey fraught with challenges, uncertainties, and possibilities for shaping a future where humans and robots coexist harmoniously in a rapidly changing world.

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