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The guy who made a freaky Scarlett Johansson robot

Ricky Ma has created a robot that looks eerily like the Lost in Translation actress – but he won’t admit it’s actually based on her

It’s a weird old time we’re living in. At times you’d be forgiven for thinking we’re living in a JG Ballard meets Spike Jonze futurama, where quiet men create Scarlett Johansson robots for you to share a night in enjoying pizza that was delivered to you via drone. 

Hong Kong based designer Ricky Ma is one of those quiet men, with their circuitry and motherboards and acquiescent female robots. His Mark 1 robot made international waves for the not unreasonable fact that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Scarlett Johansson – a fact that Ma refuses to confirm in interviews beyond a nudge-wink kind of way. The robot winks and smiles when you tell her she’s beautiful, and it’s undeniably an impressive feat of engineering – more so when you realise that Ma created this by himself in his flat, without the support of a huge tech company. The jury’s still out on whether Ma’s enjoying the ‘romantic’ attentions of his Scarlett ‘bot – he says no, the Internet says 'maybe'. 

Despite this, it’s hard not to think every time you hear about male developers creating female robots, that what we’re evolving towards is a world in which the ideal woman comes in android form: literally incapable of answering back with anything other than the answers you programme her with. It’s patriarchy reconfigured for our new technological age: after all, women have shown themselves to be remarkably adept at resisting social pressures to be configured to speak and respond in a certain way, so why not do away with women entirely? Even better if you can have sex with a robot who’s always DTF and who doesn’t demand anything unreasonable like, you know, intimacy or reciprocal sexual pleasure.

To find out what drives a man to expend an incredible amount of resource (not to mention spending a fuck-ton of money) building a Scarlett Johansson lookalike robot, when you could just settle down with a DVD of Lost in Translation, some tissues and a drone-delivered pizza, we spoke to Ma over email from Hong Kong.

Hi Ricky. Tell me how you started designing robots?

Ricky Ma: I’ve been working in the graphic and product design field for about 24 years, and one day I started thinking about what it is that I really want to design. I dug deep into my old memories, and remembered that when I was a child I always dreamt about building robots. The inspiration came from Japanese comics, where the stories often involved children playing robot games. So this is me making my childhood dreams come true. 

How hard was it to build Mark 1?

Ricky Ma: It took a year of planning and a year and a half to build the actual thing. I spent about $50,000 on all the materials and equipment, including a 3D printing machine, vacuum casting machines, liquid silicone and materials for the 3D printer. And that’s not including the cost of all the things I tried to make work and damaged!

What would you say to people who think that it resembles Scarlett Johansson? 

Ricky Ma: I love to find attractive and special characters from movies or TV for my robots. I think lovely faces and moveable bodies generate more attention. I wonder if anyone will say it looks like someone…

Do you think your robot objectifies women? 

Ricky Ma: I’m not sure of this question.

Are you enjoying the romantic affections of your robot?

Ricky Ma: No!

Do you have plans to build future robots?

Ricky Ma: I want to develop more robots and I’ll use different ways like support via Kickstarter/Indiegogo or finding business partners to achieve this goal. 

How do you interact with your robot? Is it just for science or do you enjoy her company on a more personal level?

Ricky Ma: She has a voice control function for interactions. But this version of her is for my private work.

Do you think robots will ever replace human beings?

Ricky Ma: I don’t think robots could ever replace humans. Humanity is a very complicated thing. But it’s more important that robots help increase the economies of countries and contribute to our reindustrialization. That said, I think robots that look like people will be popular in future. It’s just a psychological thing.