14 Association of Research Libraries Research Library Issues 299 2019 Technology Innovation and AI Ethics Sylvester A. Johnson, Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and Director of the Center for Humanities, Virginia Tech Introduction In 2017, Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to a machine, a humanoid robot powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and named Sophia. This woman-gendered robot is manufactured by the Hong Kong–based Hanson Robotics Corporation and it is machine-learning technology that enables her to deliver scripted speech and to participate in spontaneous conversation with humans, complete with facial gestures, intonation, and other forms of body language. Sophia had just delivered a speech at the nation’s Future Investment Initiative summit, to which Saudi Arabia had invited hundreds of global investors to consider leveraging the financial growth opportunities the nation is charting for its future. Following Sophia’s speech, it was announced that the government had granted her citizenship. Sophia responded with delight, even pondering the possibility of voting and attending college one day. It seems undeniable that technology innovation is broaching fundamental questions about humanity and ethics. In the wake of Sophia’s citizenship announcement, a mix of fascination and dissent emerged. Many people were quite amused that this humanoid AI robot could be so charming. Others lamented the fact that Saudi Arabia had granted citizenship rights to a machine while denying the same to millions of human immigrants. Still others noted that Sophia addressed an audience of elite men while unveiled, whereas human women in Saudi Arabia are traditionally required to veil in public. Amidst the various responses, one thing was certain: granting citizenship to an intelligent machine was a sure sign that AI technology is as much a social issue as it is a technical one.
Previous Page Next Page