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This is not about ‘Sophia’

Photo: DOI / Kevin Abela

Not content with selling citizenship as a commodity, Malta will now even be creating the ‘people’ to sell citizenship to, if you had to take news headlines seriously.

Except robots aren’t people, and so do not require citizenship. The idea that these robots would be getting EU citizenship – as presented by the Head of the AI Task Force Wayne Grixti – is just daft.

Besides discussions about whether ‘Sophia’ is in fact truly artificially intelligent at all (her own creators say she’s not), others were less succinct. “It’s obviously bullshit,” is how Joanna Bryson, an AI and ethics researcher at the University of Bath, described it when Saudi Arabia did the same thing last year.

Speaking to The Verge, she said: “What is this about? It’s about having a supposed equal you can switch on and off”.

Being a citizen means something. It means less once you accept that a robot can have the same rights. Will it also be answerable to the same laws? What happens if ‘Sophia’ commits a crime?

It’s hard to know where to start with such ridiculous notions. This was nothing more than an expensive PR exercise.

Meanwhile, a country that is dogged by money-laundering accusations creates an innovative sphere to legitimise a currency that is dogged by money-laundering accusations and creates an international project to be led by someone blacklisted by the World Bank twice for money-laundering. You couldn’t make it up.

These are the stories of concern behind the sensationalist headlines. Malta is now exporting criminality and money-laundering as a global project through a middle man with a certificate in the subject.

Shiv Nair was no longer heard of since assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had exposed his close ties to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who was caught out several times lying about not knowing him. But the government’s efforts at whitewashing its reputation with two lavish summits to promote ‘Blockchain Island’ has served to allow the likes of Shiv Nair to exploit the opportunity while heads turn for ‘Sophia’.

Read more: Look what ‘Blockchain Island’ dragged in – World Bank blacklisted Shiv Nair is back

The Shift News has shown how a meeting held on the fringes of the Delta Summit last month led to Shiv Nair boasting he was working on a project he calls ‘the Commonwealth of Blockchain Islands‘ with the Foreign Minister of Vanuatu by his side to lead the initiative.

Perhaps ‘Sophia’ may have something to say about this. When she was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia (what woman would want to be born under that dark cloud?) in October last year, the robot then went on to talk about women’s rights in the country.

After saying ‘she’ wanted to destroy humankind (apparently by mistake), ‘Sophia’ went on to state she wanted to use her unique position to fight for women’s rights in the Gulf nation.

Malta, always following in the footsteps of others, was not the first to come up with the idea. The Saudi kingdom had also used ‘Sophia’ for eye-catching headlines to promote a tech summit.

Needless to say, those who threw money into an innovative idea for promotional purposes to divert attention away from problems at home were not too happy with this glitch in Sophia’s new-found citizenship.

“It’s this last point that highlights the absurdity of the situation (if you don’t think it’s absurd already). In a country where the laws allowing women to drive were passed only last year and where a multitude of oppressive rules are still enforced (such as women still requiring a male guardian to make financial and legal decisions), it’s simply insulting. ‘Sophia’ seems to have more rights than half of the humans living in Saudi Arabia,” Robert David Hart wrote in Quartz.

Who knows? She may wake up one morning in Malta and decide she has had enough of being a tool to whitewash Malta’s reputation as a money-laundering hub. She may point out to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat that “the Blockchain seeds being planted in fertile soil” will not yield a harvest that is good for the country, even though it may be good for them, and Finance Minister Edward Scicluna can then blame ‘Sophia’ for Malta getting a bad rap with South American taxi drivers.

While all eyes are on ‘Sophia’, Shiv Nair is happily building his new project as the Prime Minister declares “we are doing everything necessary for the seed to grow”.

Malta will now be assisting Vanuatu with drafting cryptocurrency and blockchain laws as well as offering technical assistance, according to media reports in Vanuatu. Shiv Nair boasts on his LinkedIn page that he is, in association with Malta, initiating the Commonwealth Blockchain Group.

It was not chance that brought Vanuatu’s foreign minister to Malta with Shiv Nair as his emissary in early October 2018 to attend the Delta Summit, meet Muscat and decide that Malta should assist Vanuatu in introducing a regulatory framework modeled on that being adopted by Malta.

Never mind the loophole created by the Maltese government in its regulatory framework that led to the rush of Blockchain companies to Malta (incidentally, this has just been extended by a further 11 days), also exposed by The Shift News.

Never mind. Let’s just all drool over ‘Sophia’s citizenship – or wait, it’s not actually citizenship. After milking the headlines, Schembri is saying we got it wrong. It won’t actually be citizenship, but a test for citizenship.

Academic lawyer Justin Borg-Barthet hit back: “So you’re calling something which isn’t a citizenship test a citizenship test, and the head of AI task force thinks you’re contemplating something which you’re not contemplating. Glad that’s cleared up.”

There is no taking back the money spent in promoting the idea of citizenship to a robot now. Back in July, news reports were already selling the idea as a result of the massive marketing effort done by the government.

The easiest way to get out of a mess is to say you were misunderstood. But let’s be clear, while there may be only a few of us questioning the stunts, we certainly won’t play game.

End impunity

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