Prime Video Screening Room: Ex Machina

December 4, 2015
By

It’s your friendly KF on KND Editor April Hamilton here, to share my impressions of Ex Machina (R, 4/5 stars, currently priced at $2.99 to rent in SD / $3.99 in HD, $9.99 to own in SD / $11.99 in HD, currently in the Prime Video catalog for Prime members to view for free).

This is a beautifully shot and very thought-provoking movie about a technological genius’s foray into creating a human-looking android with Artificial Intelligence (AI) that closely mimics human thought and response processes.

The genius, Nathan, is the super-rich creator of a Google-type search technology called Blue Book. Nathan invites Caleb, a programmer from his company, to come to his combination home/research facility to conduct a Turing test on his latest-generation AI project: an android named Ava. A Turing test is a test of an artificial intelligence’s ability to mimic human thought so closely as to be indistinguishable from the real thing.

Ava is a revelation in terms of humanoid appearance and behavior, and impersonates a human so believably that Caleb quickly develops a protective emotional attachment to her. At the same time, Caleb discovers that Nathan’s motives are selfish, his nature is narcissistic and cruel—borderline psychopathic, really—, his cloistered lifestyle has become self-destructive, and there’s a lot he’s not telling Caleb about Ava and the history of her development.

As for Ava, is she a gentle and curious intelligence, with all the wonder and optimism of a child? Or is she a machine intelligence as cold, calculating and ruthless as any other, intent only on identifying and achieving her logical ends by any means necessary?

Caleb’s approach to distinguishing between the two alternatives is based on the philosophical thought experiment, Mary in the Black and White Room. As he explains it to Ava early on, Mary is a scientist whose area of expertise is color. She knows everything there is to know about the science of color, how color wavelengths work, how colors can be blended to create new variations and so on. But Mary has always been confined to a black and white room, she’s never actually seen color. One day she walks out of the room and experiences color for the first time. Only then does she learn how colors make her feel.

To Caleb, Ava is Mary in the Black and White Room: she has all of Blue Book’s accumulated knowledge about the world, but has never experienced the world. Caleb’s conviction that no one can truly understand Ava’s nature and Ava cannot reach her full potential until she’s been allowed to interact with the outside world will have unforeseen and devastating consequences.

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars
I recommend Ex Machina very highly to anyone who’s a fan of science fiction in general, who has an interest in technology and AI specifically, or anyone who enjoys a well-acted character study. The CGI effects used to render Ava’s exposed android body segments is incredibly well-done and believable. All three of the leads are very well-acted, and the script is filled with emotion, tension and suspense.

This is one of those films you can watch over and over, and get something new from it each time.

 

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