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This Scarlett Johansson robot is a crushing end to another week

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What in god’s name is this thing!?! It looks like Scarlett Johansson, but it also looks like it’s about to kill me? Let’s band together to try to figure out what the hell is going on in a dialogue format.

Russell Brandom: So the obvious thing to say is that this is creepy as hell. If I were Scarlett Johansson right now, I would be doubling my security detail.

Chris Plante: I imagine Johansson doubled her security detail long ago. In 2012, her cyber stalker was sentenced to 10 years in prison. I would like to say by comparison an artificial recreation of an actress isn’t so bad, but no, no, no, this is insane. Is this legal? Like, can people build lifelike robots of celebrities so long as they don’t explicitly name them as such?

RB: Maybe? There was actually a case in 1992 where a company made an ad with a robot Vanna White and got sued by the human Vanna White. But that was an advertising thing. I don’t know if you can stop people from building a robot replica of you for personal use. It kind of seems like you should, though, because this is really unsettling.

I think this also came up with the buffybot on Buffy, and the lesson was not to make robot replicas of people without their explicit consent.

CP: I think I’ve found something! Something that doesn’t help us, sure, but something nonetheless! This is a fascinating bit from Law Notes, a monthly magazine edited Albert Gibson and Arthur Weldon, who wrote a smatter of papers on law in the early 20th century.

From the result in the Court below of the Monson wax figure case, it would appear that aman has a legal right to prevent the multiplication of copies of himself. In other words, a man has a copyright in his own effigy, and, as the owner of any other copyright, the exclusive right of multiplying copies of himself — in wax. We are not quite sure that the case was decided on this point, but it ought to have been. There was a little too much talk about the Chamber of Horrors and libel and actionable wrong. The true reason of the decision must be that, as we put it, it is breach of man’s copyright of himself. True, he is not the author of himself, but may be said to obtain a copyright in himself by inheritance. At any rate, on whatever ground granted, it appears to us only right that aman should be able to stop the exhibition of his counterfeit self.

That was published in 1894, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t having the same conversation we’re having right now. What they would apply to wax seems multitudes more important for a statue that can imitate facial tics.

RB: Is that why you always see celebrities next to their Madame Toussaint’s wax replicas, implicitly giving their consent?

CP: I suspect so. Because that’s what I think is especially unnerving about this robot — the idea that a woman has been copied without her consent. And the gender of the robot and her famous inspiration is important. At wax museums, where business relationships are cooked up between celebs and designers, things like this still happen to sexualized bodies.

RB: Do you remember Jude Law in A.I., and the profound sadness he brought to the role of a robot constructed only to satisfy the base pleasures of humanity?

CP: Russell, if you listen to my podcast, What’s Technew episodes available every Tuesday — you’d know I think about A.I. a lot. And yes, Jude Law is a sad figure.

RB: I began this post feeling bad for the human Scarlett, but now I feel bad for the robot. ​And Johansson. I just generally feel bad. Everything is the worst.

CP: Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the mechanical wheezing of the robotic hand.