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Scarlett Johansson Robot: Amazing Science or Ethical Conundrum?

4/5/2016 11:00:00 AM 
Scarlet Johansson 'Mark 1' Robot

Last Friday, a man in Hong Kong announced he had created a home-built Robot replica of an unnamed Hollywood actress. (It's Scarlet Johansson.) The bot, named "Mark 1" was constructed by 42-year old graphic designer Ricky Ma. The project took a year and a half and cost more than $50,000. Ma says the completion is the fulfillment of his dream.

Mark 1 was built mainly using 3d printing technology. Its legs, arms, and even fingers move. Its eerily human face can smile, grin, wink, and talk. It is programmed to say phrases like, "You are so cute," and "I love you." It wears clothing, including a bra that is rather visible through its blouse.

The invention deserves recognition and praise as a significant scientific achievement, especially given the fact that Ma built Mark 1 at home in his spare time. It also raises numerous ethical questions. Is this a shameful objectification of women? (We won't even get started on The Stepford Wives...) Do robots have rights, or do they belong to, and are therefore subject to the whims of their creators? There are also the topics of robot sex and prostitution.

What's more, the ScarJo replica is downright creepy. (If the images don't convince you, watch the video below.)

Each of these concerns is important and requires discussion. The focus of this article is the issue of Personal Image Rights.

So far, there has been no official response from Scarlet Johannson, her agent or her lawyer. It is safe to assume that the megastar had no say in the matter. The question, then, becomes whether a person has a claim upon her own image, and how far that claim stretches. Does, or should, the Honk Kong inventor have the right to build a replica?

Ricky Ma and his Scarlet Johansson Robot
Ricky Ma and his Scarlet Johansson Replica Robot

The laws that govern Personal Image Rights are generally limited to commercial use. If somebody takes a photo, makes a sketch, or paints a portrait of another person, and sells it for commercial gain, any resulting transaction is subject to litigation. But if a man draws a sketch of Scarlett Johansson, keeps it for himself, even frames it in his home, nothing can be done to stop it. So what if somebody makes a sculpture of the actress? What if it is a plastic sculpture, with lifelike silicon skin? Now imagine it can move and talk. And yet, it is something he keeps at home, and is never used for commercial gain. This is what has taken place in Hong Kong.

Where is the line between ownership of an object of personal admiration, and infringement upon the rights of others? Is Ricky Ma's robot legal? Is it a form of identity theft? Is it, quite simply, right or wrong? There are certainly many points of view to be explored.

We are rapidly moving into the robot age. The time for a thorough examination of the ethical impact of emerging technologies is now. ◼

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