Written and directed by Alex Garland, Ex Machina is a compelling science fiction thriller exploring a variety of different problems in bioethics, religion, gender and artificial intelligence (AI). Beautifully envisioned and crafted, the idea for the movie came from years of discussion Garland was having with neuroscience experts, who claimed that machines could never become fully sentient. (1) In an attempt to challenge this postulation, Garland has began reading books written by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Ray Kurzweil, which inspired the narrative of the film. (2)
The story follows Caleb, a computer programmer invited to the luxurious home of his CEO, Nathan, who lives in a high-tech house in a secluded forest area. The reason for Caleb’s visit is to perform a Turing Test on Nathan’s humanoid robot called Ava. Ava has already passed a simple Turing test and the next step including Caleb is to see whether he could asses her ability of thoughts and consciousness, as well as human emotional features.
Caleb eventually grows close to Ava, even developing a romantic relationship and the desire to escape with Ava into the outside world. At a certain point in the film, Ava starts turning Caleb against Nathan, and together they form a plan to escape the facilities. However, Nathan seems to be aware of these conversations and tells Caleb that Ava has only pretended to like him so he could help her escape – an intelligent manipulation which passed Nathan’s true test. In the end, Ava and another humanoid end up stabbing Nathan who previously knocked Caleb unconscious. Ava escapes the confines with Caleb trapped inside the facility and enters the outside world.
At first glance, the movie’s ending seems to represent a warning of the risks and dangers that come with robotics and AI – machines will outsmart humans and realize they are superior in intelligence and capabilities. However, the movie might be interpreted in a number of different ways. We do not know how Ava continues her journey into the human world, what her intentions are and how malicious she really is. From all we know, Nathan has been a reckless, abusive creator to both of its humanoids, so her betrayal perhaps seems fitting. The utter destructivity observed in Nathan’s behavior and a somewhat acceptance of a natural course of evolution – man-made, artificial intelligence will overpower and outsmart the human race, so accepting it means embracing our limited human abilities (and nature).
‘Ex Machina’ director: Selling small films takes work”. eastfieldnews.com. 21 May 2015.
Matt Patches. “Ex Machina A.I. Inspirations – Alex Garland on Robots, Google, and Immortality”. Esquire.