Saudi Arabia releases female humanoid robot trained to avoid 'sex and politics'

Saudi Arabia releases female humanoid robot trained to avoid 'sex and politics'
Saudi Arabia has released its first female humanoid robot - a 25 year-old woman who is trained not to discuss sex or politics.
2 min read
25 March, 2024
Saudi Arabia has been investing for years in robotics and artificial intelligence, aiming to become a leader in the field. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

A Saudi company has unveiled the country's first female humanoid robot, saying she has been trained not to discuss sex or politics in accordance with Saudi cultural norms.

"She should be nice, not talking politics, not talking sex because we're in Saudi Arabia," Elie Metri, the CEO of Riyadh-based QSS AI & Robots, told Business Insider on Sunday. "It shouldn't go into those topics."

Named "Sara" by her creators, the robot is dressed in traditional Saudi clothing considered appropriate for women - including a headscarf and modest abaya. Sara also "knows that she's a girl, she's 25 years old, she's 1.62 centimeters," Metri added.

While sex is likely off-limits to Sara due to Saudi Arabia's conservative social norms, politics are probably blacklisted from her system to avoid making major blunders in the kingdom's increasingly repressive political environment.

Dozens of people have been arbitrarily arrested in recent years for criticizing Saudi authorities, including prominent female human rights activists.

Some of the most vocal critics of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman have also been executed, sometimes without trial - like the prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.

But there's more to Sara than what she cannot talk about. Using artificial intelligence, Sara can chat with human customers in both Arabic and English.

She was trained to do so using a unique dataset. "We don't rely on anyone else's libraries, not even ChatGPT," Metri told Business Insider.

Sara's launch follows the controversial release of a male humanoid robot, Muhammad, by the same company earlier this month.

While Muhammad's launch was widely welcomed by the tech community as a technical prowess, it also sparked heated discussions online after the robot was caught on camera touching the back of a female reporter from Al Arabiya at the launch event. 

Many social media users mocked the robot for seemingly trying to stroke the reporter's back - a gesture that, coming from a human, would have been deemed inappropriate.

But Metri told reporters Muhammad had only moved his hand to mimic the way humans sometimes move while speaking, dismissing concerns that the robot could have been trying to sexually harass the reporter.

Saudi Arabia has been investing heavily in robotics and artificial intelligence in recent years, aiming to become a leader in the field.

In 2021, the kingdom unveiled a series of robots designed to serve pilgrims during the Hajj while respecting social distancing norms - for example, supplying water to pilgrims so they wouldn't have to interact with other people.