Lowdown: A young developer gets to test an AI housed inside a female like robotic shell.
The question of AIs, or Artificial Intelligences, taking over humanity has been in the air for a few decades now. We all know of The Terminator and its Skynet; on the video games side of things, the series Mass Effect had everything to do with the theme; and recently we had celebrities such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk inform the world that AIs represent the biggest ever threat to humanity. With that in mind, what baggage does one bring with oneself when one sits to watch Ex Machina, a movie that clearly features a female AI at its core (I mean, just look at the movie poster)? Does one come expecting a love affair between a human and a female robot, whatever that is? Or should one expect to see the cataclysmic end of humanity served by a sexy robot?
Ex Machina follows Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a promising developer from a giant Internet company called Bluebook that, from search engine to Android phone lookalikes, is blatantly modelled after Google. Caleb wins a special lottery; not one that grants him millions, but rather one that has him spend a week together with Bluebook/Google’s founding owner Nathan (Oscar Isaac pretending to be Sergey Brin?) at his bigger than your average country secluded private estate.
After a long helicopter flight, coupled by a bit of a walk, Caleb arrives to find what Nathan has in mind for him: Nathan would like Caleb to run a Turing test on his latest attempt at AI. To the uninitiated, I will explain the concept of a Turing Test was invented by Alan Turing (the hero of the recently reviewed The Imitation Game): Turing hypothesised that we can identify a proper AI when we get to chat with it without figuring out that we are talking to an artificial entity rather than a human.
The catch, if you want one in addition to the fact Ex Machina deals with a pretty highly performing AI on the Turing Test scale, is that the AI at hand is housed in a very female human like robotic body that is pretty capable, physically (portrayed by the genetically blessed Alicia Vikander in a CGI rendered EDI from Mass Effect lookalike body). Thus, in addition to contending with philosophical questions on matters of AI ala Musk/Hawking, our Caleb gets to grapple with matters of male/female domination as he deals with what seems to be the a perfect sexbot seemingly desperate to prove itself in whatever way possible to Caleb.
The resulting movie is a proper science fiction affair in the sense that it makes its viewer think. It does so not because of its action scenes – there are a relatively few of those – but rather through dialog. Conversations between the key characters, humans and machines, trigger philosophical questions of a calibre that is rarely found in mainstream cinema. Which, obviously, makes Ex Machina into a pretty interesting film.
So, which film is it? Is Ex Machina a Terminator clone or a love affair? I suggest you find out for yourselves. I will add, though, that it is no Bicentennial Man cutie movie that kids can watch; there is some pretty confronting stuff at hand and some hard to watch scenes, even if there are none of your typical horror movie “make you jump” moments.
Overall: Ex Machina is a film that should attract you because of its smarts, and as such it deserves 3.5 out of 5 clever crabs.