Ex Machina is a science fiction thriller film written and directed by Alex Garland, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Issac, and Sonoya Mizuno. It tells a story of a young programmer invited to participate in a technological and psychological experiment about artificial intelligence. The director had the idea that “computers have minds” when he was 11 after learning how to code. Later in his career, he was influenced by the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and started his screenplay in Pinewood Studios with a limited budget. The film begins when the young programmer Caleb is selected to meet Nathan, the CEO of the search engine company Blue Book. Nathan lives in a remote modern home where only helicopter can find the place. Nathan reveals that he is working on building a female humanoid robot named Ava with artificial intelligence. Caleb’s job is to use the Turing test to test whether the machine can pass the human. Throughout Caleb and Ava’s daily conversations, Caleb begins to feel attracted to Ava and watches her on camera at night. When he learns that Nathan may upgrade Ava by destroying her and creating a new model, he decides to help the robot escape. At the end of the story, the robot passed the test and escaped the house.

 

Stories about machines and artificial intelligence are always popular in the science fiction genre. From the old films Frankenstein, Metropolis to recent shows such as Westworld, Her, sci-fi writers love to discover the relationship between machines and humans. The development of technology and algorithm, especially “deep learning” create a new relationship between human and machine. The birth of A.I started from the Dartmouth conference in 1956 when John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky proposed the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence (DSRAI). (1) Later, it came to the golden years when basic algorithm came out, and natural language became essential to the development of A.I. Started from 2011, deep learning came out and brought artificial intelligence to the next level. From the technological perspective, “whether computers can think” is the central question in deep learning because it requires computers to learn themselves through previous experiences. Ex Machina explains the Turing Test, “If you’ve created a conscious machine it’s not the history of man… that’s the history of Gods.” When Caleb talks to Ava, they begin from the one-side simple conversation to double-side communication. Ava begins to learn Caleb’s behaviors and facial expressions. In the end, she convinced Caleb that she’s in love with him and she wants to escape. This is what programmers wish to in real life for deep learning progress. Artificial intelligence can think and react beyond the basic algorithm. It creates “human consciousness” that allows machines to have real emotion. The house and the experiment in the film also reflect another A.I experiment with “The Chinese Room Argument.” It says that the digital computer may appear it understand the language but fails to understand the meaning. (2) It means that even though the machine passed the Turing test, it still doesn’t have human consciousness. In the film, this argument can be used to challenge Ava’s intelligence. It’s possible that Ava doesn’t have real emotion because she killed her creator and left Caleb inside the house. She may understand humans but never understand their feelings.

 

The film also discussed the relationship between the female body and the machine. The rise of artificial intelligence grew from a constructed knowledge of the human body as a machine. (3) In Donna Haraway’s The Cyborg Manifesto, she discussed cyborg imagery by mapping “social and bodily reality” as a “hybrid of machine and organism” (4). In many sci-fi AI films, robots have gender, such as the female A.I Maria in Metropolis. In Ex Machina, Caleb also asks Nathan why Ava has to be a woman. Nathan’s response says that only males or females can have emotions and feelings because different genders interact and react. That’s also why he chooses Caleb to test Ava. Caleb is not randomly selected. Nathan uses search engines to find Caleb’s pornography preferences to construct Ava’s face and body. All robots in Ex Machina are female with beautiful faces and perfect bodies. The waitress Kyoko is also a robot with whom Nathan engages sexually. Female robots in the film represent desire and lust. They are controlled by the male master and use their bodies and faces to win men’s hearts. As Nathan says, “You bet she can fuck… in between her legs, there’s an opening with a concentration of sensors. If you engage them in the right way, it creates a pleasure response. So, if you wanted to screw her, mechanically speaking, you could, and she’d enjoy it.” Women in Ex Machinaare tools to satisfy men’s needs, sexual needs, and career needs. Although the director argues that those robots are different from Maria in Metropolis, they still suffer from the masculine world.

 

 

References:

  1. The History of Artificial Intelligence. Science in the News. (2020, April 23). https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/history-artificial-intelligence/.
  2. Cole, D. (2020, February 20).The Chinese Room Argument. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-room/. 
  3. Hayles, N. K. (2010).How we became posthuman: virtual bodies in cybernetics, literature and informatics. Univ. of Chicago Press. 
  4. Haraway, D. J.Cyborg manifesto.  
  5. Krieger, D. (2018, March 29). ESSAY: “Metropolis” and “Ex Machina”: Portrayals of Gender, Technology, and Society. http://www.i-on-the-arts.com/2018/03/essay-metropolis-and-ex-machina.html.
  6. Guardian News and Media. (2016, January 26).Artificial Intelligence: Gods, egos and Ex Machina. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2016/jan/26/artificial-intelligence-gods-egos-and-ex-machina.