Ex Machina is a terrifyingly realistic depiction of the future of AI. And yes you guessed it; the pioneer isn’t a straight up guy.
A young programmer at the world’s largest internet company wins a competition to spend a week at a private retreat belonging to the company’s reclusive CEO, Nathan (Oscar Isaac).
On arrival Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) learns that he has been selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence. He must evaluate the human qualities of the world’s first true AI, which comes in the form of a beautiful female robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). His task is to determine if after meeting Ava he still views her as a robot. Effectively it’s a 21st century version of the Turing test.
Ava is an unbelievably intelligent robot who has an unparalleled thirst for knowledge. Her thought processes are sparked by the terms millions of humans are keying into Blue Book, the world’s most popular internet search engine owned by Nathan.
But things aren’t as cut and dry as they first appeared and the power-hungry tech mogul’s drunken outbursts only make matters worse. Caleb is trapped in a mad man’s paradise where his only comrade doesn’t have a heart, literally.
Finally here’s an AI movie with some intelligence. For too long now we’ve been spoon-fed driven like Transcendence.
Alex Garland, best known for 28 Days Later and The Beach is the writer and director of Ex Machina and it shows. It’s an extremely intelligent and visceral portrayal of the future and the part technology will play in it. The movie engages with our fears about AI and then adds a few of its own to the mix.
It’s rather ironic that Ex Machina was released in the same month that Stephen Hawking and other eminent scientists signed an open letter warning of the “potential pitfalls” of AI. “Our AI systems must do what we want them to do,” Hawking and co. wrote. As the movie shows, robots, at least those in fiction, are all too inclined to have minds of their own.
Ex Machina is outstanding. Garland expertly combines the traditional sci-fi thriller elements with the kind of material you’d expect to see in a low-budget art house movie.
Garland uses Nathan’s underground bunker to numb us to the enormity of the situation, and then peppers in unimaginably terrifying moments that stand out against the stark background. He keeps you guessing throughout. My advice, just sit there and enjoy it. Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out, because Garland is always one, if not two steps ahead.
By Ruth Walker