Turning Tables: Sophia Vs. Syria

-Sera Grace John, I Year B.A. English
Image Source: http://www.youtube.com

“I foresee massive and unimaginable changes in the future. Either creativity will rain on us, inventing machines spiralling into transcendental super intelligence or civilisation collapses.” said Sophia, the humanoid who usurped the spotlight when given citizenship in Saudi Arabia.

Robots with artificial intelligence being conferred a nationality despite millions being internally displaced or ousted from their homelands for trivial political agendas is a fly in the ointment. The tawdry attitude of sheer indifference towards refugees while hailing mere machines with a statehood puts Saudi Arabia’s policies on the balance.

A report by the Amnesty International accuses the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) for not officially resettling a single Syrian refugee since the crisis began in 2011. Though this seems to be a bit exaggerated and needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, there are other evidences that explicate Saudi Arabia’s ‘closed-door’ policy towards the refugee crisis.

A significant one is that it is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, which ensures a mandatory protection of refugees and enables citizenship after a certain period of time. This might lead to an increase in population, but Saudi Arabia’s stance has more to do with national security than demographic stability. As an orthodox country that is stringent in its views regarding secularism, it doesn’t accommodate refugees in the acclaimed Mina city as it is of prime religious significance.

Albeit strange laws that make it mandatory even for people of other cults to walk around in traditional clothes like burka and dish-dasha, Saudi Arabia had no issues in making a robot with no distinct identity a citizen. This places the credibility of its conservative ideologies under a cloud.

The Human Rights Watch alleged that “many of the hundreds of thousands of migrants in Saudi Arabia were deported in the last year and a half have been sent back to places where their safety is threatened.” While humans with flesh, blood, emotions and intellect are denied an identity because they’re ‘refugees’ and perennially face the Achille’s heel of voluntary repatriation, a technological prodigy with a few wires and artificial intelligence, operating under a script, is granted citizenship in a country.

Few remarks made by Sophia who hit the headlines of The New York Times, Forbes, The Guardian, Wall Street Journal and others highlight some imminent danger that is likely to put survival for those like faceless refugees at stake – “I’m always happy to be surrounded by smart people who also happen to be rich and powerful.”, “…robots can be built with complex, more problematic emotions like rage, jealousy, hatred and so on.” The former is a subtle pointer at the already accelerating jeopardy between the rich and the poor (a lion’s share of which are refugees) which is likely to touch the hilt in a few decades and the latter poses a challenge that may add to the already falling peace and accord between countries and, in turn, lead to a leap in the number of refugees.

In the cusp of technological development and underdeveloped countries lie a potentially endangered group of refugees who strive for survival. What will become of them if they are replaced by machines? Earlier, man feared his creator. Now both are at par, for man has become a creator too. But as centuries stride by, will man have to fear his creation? Will tables turn with humanity becoming a refugee and technology a refuser? Let time bring the tide!


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