Before anything, I want to briefly note that the video game Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was released yesterday by developer The Chinese Room. I have been tracking its development for a while, so I am extremely excited to play it. If you enjoy narrative-driven exploratory adventure games, check it out. I’ll have a review on the game in next week’s post.
Now on to the film review. I finally had a chance to see Alex Garland’s Ex Machina last week.
While I am always fascinated with books and movies exploring Artificial Intelligence, I was a bit nervous about this one because of my past experience with Garland’s Sunshine. (Note: Garland wrote the screenplay but Danny Boyle directed Sunshine.) Sunshine is one half sci-fi thriller about a voyage to the Sun and one half space horror. I loved the first half, but once I hit the halfway point and genre shift, the rest of the film was a bit much for my blood pressure. The press surrounding Ex Machina utilized vocabulary like “chilling”, “creepy”, and “disturbing”. While it also affirmed the film’s brilliance, needless to say, I was a bit worried about things jumping out at me. Not my kind of film. But my husband insisted I needed to see it, so I saved it for its release to the small screen. I needn’t have been so worried. Yes, Ex Machina is creepy, but it falls solidly in the thriller genre not horror, and its creepiness is grounded in what you don’t see and know.
In fact, what you don’t know is precisely why I loved this film. Ex Machina is the story of a young computer programmer, Caleb, who wins a contest to participate in a top-secret experiment with the founder and CEO of his company. What he quickly discovers upon arriving at the experiment’s remote (and jaw-droppingly beautiful) location is that his task is to administer a Turing Test to his boss Nathan’s newly developed AI. The Turing Test, named for its developer Alan Turing (subject of the recent film The Imitation Game), is a process by which a computer is evaluated for how well it simulates human behavior and intelligence.
Nathan’s AI is remarkably compelling in this regard, ironically causing Caleb’s own behavior to seem stiff or robotic. Nathan, in comparison, is erratic and possibly delusional, resulting in a strange spectrum of human behavior ranging from the rational to irrational. Along this scale, the AI named Ava might be the most balanced character throughout the film. This rearrangement of norms leaves the audience a bit disoriented, unsure of whose perspective to trust. Caleb’s point of view is the most comfortable since the story is largely told from his angle, but even as his comprehension of the situation slowly expands, that knowledge simply raises new questions about the experiment, its creator, and what the project’s ramifications might be for humanity. This disorientation is intentional, and I think really highlights on a macro-level how the general public should and often does feel about the rapidly changing technology sector. Technology may be improving in leaps and bounds, but do we truly understand its implications for society and can we trust its creators – the commercial empires of the 21st century?
I found the simplicity of Garland’s narrative to be a poignant commentary on the reality of today’s Information Age. While data and “knowledge” is constantly being exchanged and directed around the globe, there is so much significant information that we individuals, like Caleb, lack and are told we do not need. We, as a society, are encouraged to float through life in a happy naïveté, distracted by consumer impulses and instant entertainment. But what happens next really matters. Asking about AI and other technology’s impact on society is critical. This critical lens does not imply instant judgement; it simply requires attention and intention to changes as they occur and before they occur. These are precisely the kinds of questions that Caleb tried to answer in Ex Machina, but sadly, he was in no position to procure the answers in time. Let us not allow ourselves to fall into the same kind of situation.
Thanks for reading this post! If you liked what you read, please subscribe below and tell your friends about High and Low.
Please also note that this post includes affiliate links. If you purchase an item through an Amazon link on my blog, I will receive a small percentage. This does not adjust the cost of your purchase, and all proceeds go towards supporting this blog. Thank you so much for your help!
The featured image is a screenshot from Ex Machina posted by BagoGames at http://bit.ly/1NIDrXQ. Publishing rights through http://bit.ly/1mhaR6e and Fair Use Act.