While I often find myself pining for the next gorgeous and thought provoking little piece of science fiction to drop in my lap, all too often it’s a rabbit hole that I’m hesitant to leap into. With a host of simplistic sci-fi that tends to rely on less than fulfilling stories that present themselves as little more than spectacle eye candy, including films like Jupiter Ascending, Terminator; Genysis, and The Divergent series, it has become somewhat difficult to want to continue seeking out strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, or to boldly go where no one has gone before…
With that being said, this years Ex Machina is proof that the genre is still with merit and hits all of the buttons that great science fiction should hit.
Centering itself around the concept of artificial intelligence the films explores the basics of its definition while expanding upon the ways that AI can interact with humans. The film plays out in a way that’s extremely reminiscent of the BBC series, Black Mirror, and provides viewers with a strange and twisting journey into the world of AI.
The basic plot synopsis revolves around the idea of the Turing Test, an examination into a machines ability to to display a level of intelligence equal to or indistinguishable from that of a human. The film uses this device in a way that involves having a machine interact with a human to see whether or not the person can tell if they’re interacting with a machine. In the case of the film, the human character is well aware that they are interacting with and testing an AI robot, in an almost reverse version of the test, as the AI works to convince the films lead that it is in all regard, a sentient being.
The films approach to AI is slightly different than other interpretations we’ve seen in that the AI is given much greater license in its capabilities in an effort to prove true AI. This gives the film an added layer that ultimately helps to pull the viewer deeper into the plot and for things to unfold in ways that aren’t super predictable or typical of the genre while forcing you to truly think about the nature of artificial intelligence.
While the film hits on a lot of the great, classic themes of the science fiction drama, the one area that they chose to ultimately leave out was an examination of Issac Asimov’s three laws of robotics. This has become a fundamental concept in not just science fiction and AI lore, but also in real world AI, where the laws state;
A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The laws featured prominently in many of Asimov’s science fiction stories, most predominately in the work, I, Robot, but they’ve also informed a variety of other sci-fi stories and have become an inherent part of any discussion around AI. While exploring these ideas was not entirely crucial to the film, I do feel that it could have added some valuable dialog and additional depth to some of the motivations behind the story while paying a nice homage to classic science fiction, but than again, that might just be a bit nit picky.
Ultimately, the films Ex Machina is a great watch and completely worth your time. I highly recommend you give it a go if you haven’t already and if you have I’d love to know what you thought. Does it explore AI in a way that’s new to you or do you think the film falls short in certain areas?
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