A man named Ricky Ma living in Hong Kong has built a $50,000 humanoid robot, and even though he won’t say which Hollywood celebrity he modeled it on, it’s about as clear as Clark Kent’s true identity that he was replicating Scarlett Johansson. But even though the robot cost $50,000, and took a year-and-a-half to build, the tech itself isn’t really cutting edge nor necessarily meaningful as a push toward making robots more humanlike. What does seem to be of interest here however, is more of a moral question: should people be able to build robot replicas of other people and do with them what they please? In other words, should Scarlett Johansson have a say over who owns Scarlett Johansson robots?
Tons of news outlets, including WIRED, The Telegraph, and The Mary Sue, have already reported on the Johansson robot. Their articles touch upon issues ranging from the robot being Scarlett Johansson specifically to the robot being modeled after a woman to the robot being “remarkably lifelike.” And regardless of how you feel about Ma or ownership over one’s likeness or the superficial gender of a machine, this scenario is forcing us to grapple with the very difficult problem of figuring out what societal status robots should be awarded.
It’s an old problem tackled in a lot of sci-fi—notably Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and I, Robot—but it’s definitely coming to the fore now. And before you count out Ma’s robot as something primitive enough to avoid as a catalyst for debate, keep in mind that he not only spent 50 grand and 18 months on it, but also gave it a 3D printed skeleton, motorized limbs, a suite of automated responses to various questions, and a very real-looking face that can be manipulated into a range of emotions (although none of them really match the humanity or absurdity of David Hanson’s frubber-covered faces).
Unsurprisingly, Futurama tackled this issue—perfectly—with its 2001 episode, “I Dated a Robot,” in which Fry duplicates Lucy Liu as a robot for his own recreational use. Aside from being a great episode from a hilarity standpoint, it also may have given us some insight into this conundrum; especially when the real Lucy Liu (that is, her preserved head) tells Fry, “When you downloaded her without my permission, you stole my image, and in the end, that’s all I really have.”
What are your thoughts about this Scarlett Johansson robot? Should people have a say over who builds bots with their likenesses? And should the robots themselves have rights in general? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!