And now more from the apparent riot that was Ex Machina. Alex Garland’s much lauded epic is a rehashing of the same darkness and eat-your-soul type narrative his earlier films, 28 days later and Sunshine expounded on. This film explores a very specific area encapsulated by both psychology and philosophy – the nifty little space of cognitive science.
Not a lot is known about the brain but apart from that which we can be certain, many thoughts about the brain include mysticism, divinity, or good ol’ biological speculation. The consciousness is a beast of a concept that, in a world where futurism and technology are set to deconstruct existing systems to create scary new ones, has to be reconsidered and reconsidered quick.
For example, can machines ever be conscious? What does this mean about what consciousness is (funny how implementation doesn’t view absolute knowledge as a prerequisite here.. is it just me or does that not sound dangerous)? And what does that mean about the meaning of life?
The film tries to tackle this by revising the Turing Test, a test that provides a necessary condition for artificial intelligence (if passed) and proves beyond doubt that the machine in question really can think (you go girl!).
Alan Turing outlined this test in his 1950 paper, Computing Machinery and Intelligence, 65 years before the release of this film. He was a visionary, predicting with some accuracy the state computers would be in in the future. It is a shame that he never got to see any of it happen (also a shame that the film, The Imitation Game, never paid much attention to his work on these discrete state machines).
Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, is a ‘conscious’ robot whose decided level of consciousness rests on what Caleb – Domhnall Gleeson’s programmer character – feels about her. This set up was cleverly arranged by Nathan, played superbly by Oscar Isaac, a programming prodigy whose eccentricity is kept within the confines of a creepy house that bleeds tech.
Of course the mad scientist has a drinking problem and a weird sex thing with a Japanese housemaid. So apart from the very interesting concept Garland introduces (he never actually explains computer intelligence in detail at any point with any seriousness), there is still a very heavy male narrative focus that either was meant as social commentary or is just a reflection of the lack of female voices in technology today.
// I fully believe that you can envision a future in which women have as equal a voice in technology, and if it can be envisioned, it is fully plausible, and if fully plausible, should underlie a TV show or film (on USA network at the very least). Maybe then, more of us can get used to the idea that women can help decide what a future that is technologically vast will actually look like. //
Still, the film is pretty.
But it does not develop most characters to a great extent and relies heavily on concept to carry it through. The only character that really develops is Ava, but there is also a question of if she was what she seemed all the way through, and (spoiler), if deception was her aim from the very beginning. If that is the case, it is the viewer who develops – your idea of machines shifts slightly, so if you were considering it before, you now do so from a different angle, or, if you hadn’t thought about it at all, well, at least you’re talking about it now. The final scene also leaves quite the aftertaste with a beautiful interpretation of singularity.
For a film to make its message in as clear a manner, is a very, very difficult thing to achieve.