I had just finished watching two SciFi series featuring the not-so-great effects of artificial intelligence – Battlestar Galactica and its prequel, Caprica – so I wasn’t interested in more. However, my SciFi friends started commenting about the interesting spin on the artificial intelligence theme portrayed in Ex Machina.
It is a new spin. In an unspecified future a Bill Gates analogue creates the dominant search engine then uses the knowledge acquired from the search engine to train an artificially intelligent entity. To validate the AI he chooses one of his star programmers to perform a Turing test. In case you are not a computer science geek, that is a test to see whether or not the AI appears human to another human.
This film works exceedingly well for mystery lovers due to its clever writing and direction. You know beforehand the programmer will test the AI. You see the tests and the results. You’re also fed a lie and a truth then left on your own to figure out which is which. Good luck with that, I didn’t figure it out until the last 20 minutes. I’ll definitely watch it again since it induced a curiosity to retro-analyze with latent knowledge.
While the robotics FX is truly spectacular, the director chose not to bombard the viewers with too many special effects. Also, the setting is a high-tech house in a remote, forested location only accessible by helicopter. Without the distractions of technical wizardry and chaotic city life, it lets the viewer wander into a reflective state to ponder many questions posed by the script.
Acting is good by Alicia Vikander (Ava the AI), Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb, the programmer) Oscar Isaac (Nathan, the inventor). Vikander’s movements, facial expressions and speech patterns are almost human but still slightly affected. Gleeson projects a detached sense of analytical prowess combined with a powerful emotional drive, back-story given. Gleeson is counterbalance to Isaac, whose excessive drinking and questionable behaviour set him up beautifully as the antagonist.
I tried to find some parallel with the term Deus Ex Machina and this film. Deus Ex Machina, as you probably know, is the term used when a writer weaves together an impossible story line then creates some Hail Mary miracle event to escape. ‘It was all a dream’, ‘There was this masterplan’, etc. I still don’t understand how the title correlates with the film’s message.
No matter, Ex Machina poses some familiar questions about artificial intelligence. What are the characteristics that make us human? Is is possible to recreate these characteristics? And even if it is possible, are we as a society truly prepared to birth a new life form that is arguably better at being human than we are?
Highly recommended for SciFi fans, philosophical ponderers and mystery lovers.