Science-fiction dreamers have always dabbled in the field of artificial intelligence, and the repertoire of films, movies and screenplays that have been written about robots is lengthy. There is a surreal curiosity about discovering whether technology, crafted by humans, has the capacity to work like biological minds. The reality is that neuroscientists still cannot be conclusive about the human mind—as the field of scientific study is constantly evolving with research—and the ability to pinpoint consciousness is laughable. Is consciousness a state? Are there physical factors to consciousness? Duplicating humans is far-fetched for our current AI capabilities, which have borne inventions such as the Google driverless car, and the iRobot Roomba.
On the other hand (unlike robots, who must be programed to do so), we can dream, think and conceptualize abstractly about the possibility of creation. We allow ourselves to engage in these far-fetched ideas. What a possibility—to have some a complex and multi-faceted understanding of the human body, mind and psyche that you are able to duplicate a body. Like Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, a scientist with these capabilities would have the power to play god.
Alex Garland’s new film Ex Machina was released in theaters April 10. The British director has a fresh perspective, and the sci-fi film is an opportune choice for those who are interested in tech and artificial life. A bizarre and intriguing story about a robot, a computer programmer and genius, and the blitzkrieg that ensues surrounding the question: can artificial intelligence ever have ambition or motive? Is it possible for them to experience feelings, such as love? Or primal urges and instincts, such as lust?
The movie’s marketing campaign, utilizing Tinder, is both ironic and comedic. Profile pictures depict Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, and a tinder bot prompts hopeful interests with programmed questions, before directing them to a an advertisement site for the film. Their promotion creates the illusion that a robot could be human-like, but at the end of the day, you can chalk the Tinder joke up to programing and decent coding. Some were fooled, but those who posed abstract questions to the bot—not so much.
The witty film has a tinge of the avant-garde, with a juxtaposition of highfalutin details and vague concepts that contrast. Leave your personal knowledge of tech behind when you go see the film, and let your mind go along for the ride. Finally, this is a contemporary sci-fi movie with limited special effects. There are beautiful outdoor sets, and simplistic wardrobe choices. It’s simultaneously real and fantastic.
The movie harkens back to The Twilight Zone’s The Lonely episode, in which the main character Corry is detained on an asteroid in space, and is given a robot companion with whom he becomes emotionally attached. It knocks on the same cinematic door as the 1983 horror film Christine did, in which a red Plymouth Fury attains consciousness and falls in love with her teenage owner. It raises the question of what is human, and are things considered “human” simply because they are perceived as “human,” a query associated with the film Bicentennial Man, starring Robin Williams.
If people, in their basic biological functions are machines are we the same as robots? Will it ever be possible for machines to evoke a response that is not already generated? And, even if it is a generated response, aren’t all humans’ thoughts and emotions generated by their circumstances and environments? With how much conviction can we say “I think for myself, I am not a robot,” when it is nature and nurture that have molded us like pieces of clay? Did someone instill in you that you are different from a robot, different between artificial intelligence, and would you have come to such a conclusion on your own if you were surrounded by high-functioning robots for the entirety of your life?