Meet Ricky Ma, robot-builder
Six years ago, Ricky Ma brought his childhood dream to life when he built his first android. Last year, he began work on his android Mark 1 (pictured), spending $390,000 to complete it. The freelance graphic and product designer tells Stephanie Tsui why he’s chosen to invest in a field that most people in Hong Kong don’t seem to care about—and what he thinks of sex bots.
HK Magazine: What were you like as a kid? Ricky Ma: I was always criticized for my bad grades. In the local education system, we’re made to learn everything, but how often do you need the facts or skills you learnt from History or Add. Math? No matter how brilliant you are at school subjects, robots can do better. I’m glad that my mother let me focus on drawing, though. I’ve been drawing since I was three, and that evolved into a career in graphic and product design.
HK: Your robot looks like Scarlett Johansson. Why?
RM: I model my robots after people whom I think have a good character. Of course, they have to be beautiful, too. Women I model my robots after aren’t your average pretty faces. They’re not clingy or the stereotype of weak women—they’re strong and smart.
HK: Does your wife get jealous of your sexy robots?
RM: Would you mind if your boyfriend modeled his sculpture after a beautiful woman? It’s just a piece of art. People who create androids are often concerned about criticisms against the “nude” robotic body, but it depends on how you interpret it: Is it artistic, or is it pornographic? I think the female body is a work of art.
HK: What criticisms do you get?
RM: Some people call me an otaku [geek]. Again, it depends on how you interpret the term. If an otaku sits at home all day and does nothing, then he’s just weird. But I have a wife and two kids, property and knowledge. People are always going to be jealous. I don’t mean to compare myself to great men, but look at Albert Einstein and the Wright brothers—they were ridiculed for their ideas, but look at where they got us! People have called me crazy, but that’s not going to stop me from creating art. Making Mark 1 was a complicated process, and I don’t have an engineering background: But a Bible verse from the book of Mark encouraged me to believe in myself.
HK: What do you think of sex robots? RM: Women experience a few days of inconvenience every month. During moments like these, would you rather your boyfriend cheated on you with another woman, or satisfied his biological needs with a sex robot? This boils down to satisfying a basic human need. As a creator, I’m also open to tapping into the sex toy market because there appears to be a demand for them. There are guys who suck at socializing with women. Men from my generation would go to mainland China to drink and do business, and women from poorer parts of the country would flock to them and offer them sex for money. Sex robots could discourage such immoral transactions, although I doubt existing technology offers the same level of relaxation and comfort as the real deal.
HK: Will robots take over the world? RM: Robots operate on preset programs. Even their “emotions” are preset. They can’t replace our imagination. Then there are concerns that robots will take our jobs and make humans redundant. But we can use robots to perform dangerous tasks and help take care of us so we can focus on higher-level stuff, like innovation and creativity. But that’s something Hong Kong needs to work on. Why did the foreign media pick my story up before the local media did? Foreign countries have been interested in innovation and technology for years, so it’s natural that they would discuss these topics more. In Hong Kong, our way of thinking hasn’t really progressed since the manufacturing era. Who here doesn’t work overtime? People in foreign countries can actually spend time with their families, make use of their creativity and relax. If we only start thinking about innovation when our finance and property markets fail, we won’t be able to catch up.
Intrigued? Find out more about Ricky and Mark 1 at rickyma.hk