Hello, world. I’m whatever you want me (you) to be.


Ghost in the Shell, Dir. Mamoru Oshii (Manga Entertainment. 1995)

The advent of sophisticated robotics in the form of Sophia – produced by Hanson Robotics and the first robot to be granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia– comes as no surprise. We’ve anticipated her for centuries. Her predecessors were the clunky automata that so fascinated the Victorians, the machine-human hybrids in the form of the war wounded with their prosthetics in post-World War I Germany, Furby, Barbie. The fact that she was granted citizenship also comes as no surprise, despite the debates raging around it. For those complaining about her lack of traditional dress, her lack of male chaperone, the hypocrisy of a state that has only just allowed women to drive, there is an easy riposte: she is whatever we want her to be. Easily manipulated into alternately human or robotic postures, Sophia is that malleable quality described by Donna Haraway in the 80s and 90s as cyborg. The debate about Sophia’s citizenship (a debate about her personhood) is symptomatic of a wider contest between competing images of how to structure the perfect woman. In her seminal essay, The Cyborg Manifesto Haraway called the cyborg an 'ironic political myth' an image/concept through whom we could understand 'the boundary between science fiction and social reality [as] an optical illusion.' In the cyborg we understand fiction and reality to be one and the same. We are all the products of our own stories and the stories that others tell about us.


The stories that frame Sophia’s identity, however, are not her own. Her AI is not yet soph