My Take

Inventor Ricky Ma is blurring the line between reality and fantasy

His walking, speaking robot, which resembles Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson, brings up an intriguing question: will AI reject our advances?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 May, 2016, 10:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 May, 2016, 12:48am

The buxom Scarlett Johansson has lately been part of a global debate about artificial intelligence and robotics.

First there was Her, a sci-fi movie about a lonely guy who falls in love with his computer, which displays human intelligence and sensitivity with the husky voice of the sultry Hollywood superstar.

Now, Hong Kong inventor Ricky Ma has built a humanoid robot he calls Mark 1. He won’t say who it is modelled on but everyone who has seen it agrees it’s a Johansson lookalike with the chest size to match. Indeed, the beauty of its face is uncanny and downright creepy, though the legs and arms and their mechanical movements are a dead giveaway.

But still, with more financial and technical backing, you can see where all this is going – a serious lawsuit from Johansson and her lawyers, obviously.

To build his labour of love, Ma committed HK$380,000 of his own money. Along the way, he said in news interviews that he had to teach himself robotics, electromechanics, computer programming, advanced 3D printing and even a bit of human anatomy.

And it was a lonely quest. There was no one with similar technical interest in Hong Kong he could turn to, and people he knew all told him he was wasting time and money.

Many male members of the species harbour fantasies about Johansson, but few take it to such an extreme. Or maybe not, since Ma has refused to say who the robot is supposed to resemble.

As its name implies, AI has always been about cognitive abilities. But as machines become “intelligent”, the question is naturally raised about whether we can respond to them emotionally or even erotically. Japanese have already launched human-friendly robots to serve elderly clients in old-age homes.

With synthetic sex dolls, advanced prosthetics and the latest AI, the direction is clear. We have already seen where internet pornography has taken societies. The new AI-inspired erotica will just become part of the so-called Internet of Things.

Perhaps we should worry not so much whether machines will wipe us out like in the Terminator movies than what happens when they reject us like the Johansson-voiced operating system in Her. That may be as heartbreaking and demeaning as the “real” thing.