‘Ex machina’ a fascinating but familiar look at artificial intelligence

Saturday 25th, April 2015 / 15:56
By Olsy Sorokina

VANCOUVER — The tradition of films about artificial intelligence dates back to the late 1920s, with highlights such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and WarGames influencing an entire generation’s views on robots. The best films in the genre were written and filmed before robots became as commonplace as they are today: from Google’s ambitious DeepMind project to household names like Roomba and Siri, we have incorporated AI into our daily routines. Researchers and the general public have never been more informed on artificial intelligence – but maybe this familiarity is starting to get in the way of making good art about robots.

Ex Machina is the latest in the string of releases focused on human interaction with artificial intelligence, after Her, Transcendence, and the RoboCop reboot brought the trend back into cinema last year. The film tells the story of Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer who gets to spend a week with the CEO of the company that employs him. The eccentric CEO (Oscar Isaac) entrusts Caleb with the task of performing a Turing test with an advanced form of AI, an android named ‘Ava’ (Alicia Vikander). The test would be the ultimate confirmation of Ava’s intelligence. But things start to go awry as Caleb finds himself emotionally involved with the charming android, and doubting his bosses’ intentions.

Director Alex Garland (of 28 Days Later and Sunshine fame) couldn’t have chosen a better trio of actors or a more stunning location for his directorial debut: the cinematography and haunting atmosphere of the sci-fi thriller leave little to be desired. However, while Ex Machina certainly draws on the rich tradition of AI films (with Vikander’s interpretation of Ava reminiscent of False Maria in Metropolis and Blade Runner’s replicate Rachael), it doesn’t contribute much insight of its own. The film adds some modern elements to the story, such as the frightening amount of information about human behaviour patterns that’s contained within our search engine histories. But Ex Machina doesn’t offer any new lessons or warnings about human-machine interaction. A fumble in the screenplay that adds an ironic bit of human error to a film about the opposite.

Ex Machina is in theatres now in Vancouver.

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