Ex Machina and Artificial Intelligence

Ex Machina

by Maria Ramos

For decades, fiction writers and film directors have been fascinated with the growth and development of our robotic counterparts with movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner standing as longtime cult favorites. The increase in technology has only brought the idea of AI more to the forefront of our minds. Because of this, British sci-fi film Ex Machina has come as no great surprise to viewers. That isn’t to say though, that this film doesn’t bring something new to the table.

Screenwriter and director Alex Garland is no novice to writing in the sci-fi genre, with well known films such as 28 Days Later, Dredd, and Sunshine already under his belt. However, this is Garland’s first endeavor in actually directing a movie. Ex Machina is a product of A24 and thanks to the company’s partnership with DTV, this otherwise indie film has been widely promoted and distributed, and partly as a result of this, Ex Machina done well enough that Garland already has another directing project underway. The film stars Domhnall Gleeson (Unbroken, About Time), Oscar Isaac (Drive, A Most Violent Year), and Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Seventh Son) who each seem to flourish under Garland’s directing.

In the movie, Caleb (Gleeson), a young programmer working for a big-name search engine, wins a chance to evaluate the humanity of an AI robot named Ava (Vikander). Nathan (Isaac) is the reclusive CEO of the company who lives in a secluded mansion in the mountains which also houses the advanced research facility where Ava was created. It is in this house that Caleb is to spend a week performing a test on Ava that’s similar to the classic Turing test of artificial intelligence to see if in that time Caleb will relate to Ava as a human. Caleb becomes increasingly attached to Ava (who seems to display real human emotion), but his relationship with Nathan quickly strains as it is revealed that the CEO’s android experiments are treated like prisoners.

The movie raises the tried and true question of what it means to be human, treating the audience to the same moral dilemma as Caleb, unsure whether to take the word of Nathan, the human, or Ava, the AI. Both claim the other is lying about several things, and both make compelling, sympathetic arguments. In fact, they’re so much alike that it begins to seem as though the two have traded places. Ava is warm and sympathetic, and Nathan is cold and unfeeling. Ultimately, it is a choice between the two that Caleb will have to make.

Although Ex Machina is merely a fictional “what if” scenario meant to entertain and entice, there are aspects of it that seem to resound in truth. After all, there are many people in the world that believe AI to be a very real threat to humanity, with some of these warnings coming from surprising sources. Physicist Stephen Hawking has said that AI poses a real threat to human existence. That may seem surprising coming from a man who has depended upon technology for a large portion of his life, but Hawking believes that if technology gains the ability to design and upgrade itself, humans will never be able to keep up, and thus would be left behind the more dominant robot species.

However, as it stands right now the amount of good that new technology is able to do outweighs possible doomsday scenarios for most. New, interactive technologies help doctors and researchers compile more information than humans would be able to process alone, while advancements in areas like bionic limbs and driver-less cars mean previously handicapped people may easily live independent lives in the future. While there will always be those who fear advancement and fictional stories of technology gone rogue, it seems unlikely that the possible cons will outweigh the pros of AI anytime soon. Movies like Ex Machina only play off humanity’s seemingly irrational fears.

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