Ex Machina: Creating AI with Masculine Perspective
Ex Machina transcends the realm of conventional science fiction and delves into earnest discussions, which merit a thorough exploration within the context of the story it conveys. The film chooses to focus on a technological development that is, perhaps, the most significant of our times, as humanity finds itself playing God in an era of the technological boom that has persisted since the early 2000s. The advancements humans have made in technology have allowed them to discover and utilize tools that they could not have imagined three decades ago. However, as humankind’s technological prowess has grown, so has its desire to become the ultimate creator. The subtext of these developments, exemplified by technological wonders such as Boston Dynamics, showcases humankind’s relentless efforts to place itself in the position of the creator, albeit secretly.
Ex Machina is a film that exposes the issues inherent in humanity’s delusion of godhood, and its foundations lie in the past and the imperfect nature of humankind. Despite humanity’s claims that artificial intelligence will make life easier and faster, it is evident that it is trying to push beyond its intended limits. In this article, I will provide a few technical details about the movie, discuss the history of the problem it wants to address and touch on the issues the story seeks to reveal under the guise of a “masculine god.”
The film, which received nominations for “best visual effects” and “best original screenplay” at the 88th Academy Awards, features a stellar performance by Alicia Vikander. Although the film could have received more nominations, unfortunately, it was overlooked in certain areas. Nevertheless, its nomination for “best original screenplay” was a triumph, and the Academy’s acknowledgment of the film’s creative perspective was much-deserved. Screenwriter Alex Garland has demonstrated a remarkable ability to add inventive twists to his previous works, such as the screenplay for “28 Days Later“, which revolutionized the zombie sub-genre. With Ex Machina, Garland’s tenth project, he cemented his position as a top-class screenwriter. His subsequent works, such as “Annihilation” and “DEVS“, continue to feature deep conversations that leave a lasting impact. However, they are predominantly science fiction. Ex Machina, on the other hand, is a more realistic and near-future film that strikes a chord with audiences.
Ex Machina is a thought-provoking film that delves into complex themes such as the origin of humankind, the rise of technology, and the ethical implications of playing God. The movie, however, does not offer clear answers to the philosophical questions it raises, leaving the viewer to ponder the implications of the story’s shocking conclusion. Moreover, the film provides a prophetic glimpse into the direction in which our world is headed, as technological advancements continue to reshape our daily lives.
Caleb, a tech company employee, wins a lottery to visit the secluded home of his company’s CEO, Nathan. Upon arriving, Caleb learns that Nathan has created robots with artificial intelligence, including his latest creation, Ava, who bears a striking resemblance to a human. Caleb’s mission is to conduct a Turing Test on Ava, which assesses her ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. As the test progresses, Caleb becomes increasingly drawn to Ava, who exhibits surprising human-like qualities and confides in him about her troubled past.
The film explores the notion of humanity’s hubristic desire to play God by creating advanced technological entities that mimic human intelligence. As Caleb becomes more enamored with Ava, the line between what is human and what is artificial becomes increasingly blurred. The film ultimately leaves the viewer to ponder the ethical implications of such technological advancements and the potential consequences of crossing the boundaries of what it means to be human. Although Ex Machina offers no easy answers to these questions, it succeeds in raising crucial ethical issues that are increasingly relevant in today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape.
The acceleration of technological advancements since the turn of the millennium has been staggering. What was once considered science fiction is now becoming a reality, from recording the sounds of meteorites to developing artificial whales. Even the idea of touch screens, once laughed at in the late 1990s, is now ubiquitous. Our current aspirations include constructing a hotel on the moon and producing walking, living HAL 9000s. One notable example of our progress is the humanoid robot Sophia, who demonstrates our ability to create machines that closely resemble humans. However, as exemplified in the film Ex Machina, the manufacture of such machines is only part of the equation. They must also be rigorously tested to ensure that they can coexist with humans without causing harm or posing a threat to society. Caleb’s job is precisely that – to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of Ava, an advanced robot with human-like qualities.
The evaluation process that Caleb carries out on Ava is modeled after the Turing Test, a method developed by Alan Turing to test a computer’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. Turing proposed that if a person conversing with a computer via a text-based interface could not distinguish whether they were conversing with a human or a machine, then the computer could be considered to be exhibiting intelligent behavior equivalent to that of a human. Caleb’s interactions with Ava serve as a modern-day interpretation of the Turing Test, as he attempts to determine whether Ava’s responses and actions are generated by an advanced algorithm or by genuine human-like intelligence. The glass wall separating Caleb and Ava symbolizes the boundary between human and machine, while their interactions highlight the increasingly blurred lines between the two.
The Turing test is a widely discussed and increasingly relevant test used to evaluate the ongoing AI boom. One of the main reasons for its significance is that, unfortunately, up to 30% of people today cannot discern whether they are interacting with artificial intelligence. Mo Gawdat, the former chief business officer for Google X, attempts to emphasize the dangers inherent in our advancing progress. However, the future he warns us about is not one where AI takes over control but rather a future where humans harm themselves.
Mo Gawdat suggests that with the evolving technology, the number of individuals who fail the Turing test will increase, and malicious individuals will exploit this for harmful purposes. Ex Machina, a film released a decade ago, precisely reflects Mo Gawdat’s fears. Even someone knowledgeable about the subject, like Caleb, can fall under the influence of an entity and succumb to its inherent disadvantages. This validates all of Mo Gawdat’s concerns about the potential issues that ordinary individuals may face in the future.
The characters’ names in the movie are derived from the Bible, with the main character, Ava, symbolizing Eve. Her dependency on a man’s approval is ironic, given that she represents the first woman in the Bible. Nathan, who created Ava, is a troubled individual who produces artificial intelligence but persecutes the robots he builds with his own hands. This dichotomy is reminiscent of how God created humans but surrounded them with evil. Nathan, like God, created Ava for his own benefit, and she represents a model that could shape the future.
As Caleb’s conversations with Ava progress, an attraction develops between them. Humans have weaknesses, and sex/sexuality is one of our most significant flaws. Despite being aware that Ava is a robot, Caleb finds himself drawn to her. For a connection to develop between two individuals, there must be an agreement of sorts, and Caleb is captivated by Ava’s sincere attitude, smooth aesthetic appearance, and potential to engage in lovemaking. However, there is something far more dangerous in Ava’s design, as Nathan intended for his robots to engage in lovemaking. The inclusion of the genital area, albeit mechanical, completely alters Caleb’s perception of Ava, causing him to have thoughts he would rather avoid.
In the book “Predictably Irrational“, Dan Ariely recounts an experiment he conducted in which he asked participants to answer questions on a computer while masturbating. Astonishingly, many participants responded affirmatively to questions such as “Would you have sex with an animal?” or “Would you have sex with your sibling?” Despite being appalled by their answers later, these participants demonstrated that under certain circumstances, such as those that trigger chemical reactions in the body, individuals can ignore ethical values altogether. Ariely’s experiment thus illuminates the unsettling reality that actions that one might assume they would never do can be more alterable than they appear.
Şafak Altun similarly delves into the concept of the “Devil Effect” in his book “The Elephant Who Stole Ferrari,” positing that humans are inherently capable of evil. According to Altun, people can easily disregard ethical values when conducive circumstances arise. As a real-life example, Altun describes how a neighbor who feeds cats on the street every day might unexpectedly commit murder. These concepts are vividly portrayed in the film “Wake in Fright“, which exemplifies the aforementioned authors’ messages. The protagonist, John Grant, initially appears to be an upstanding individual but is ultimately coerced into joining an alcoholic and violent group, leading him to drink excessively, engage in fistfights, and even kill animals despite never having done so before. This transformation highlights the rejection of ethical values under the right conditions.
Nathan, the brilliant inventor of highly intelligent robots in the movie, is also not immune to moral rejection. Initially creating robots to serve practical purposes, Nathan eventually allows them to become sex objects. When it is revealed that the woman whom viewers initially believed to be Nathan’s lover is, in fact, a robot, it becomes clear that Nathan has succumbed to the allure of the unethical. Having embraced these conditions, he now directs them himself, further emphasizing the ease with which individuals can abandon their moral compass when subjected to particular situations.
Caleb’s attempts to maintain his naivety and rationality are ultimately futile, as Ava’s influence transforms him into another version of Nathan. As he subjects Ava to the Turing test, she administers Dan Ariely’s experiment in turn. Caleb’s vulnerabilities as a human ultimately lead to his defeat by artificial intelligence. Unlike the “Terminator“, which depicts a highly advanced and unrealistic technological future, Ex Machina presents a more plausible scenario. The film’s conclusion reveals that artificial intelligence will surpass humanity due to our inherent imperfections. Despite possessing the knowledge and tools to play God, our flaws prevent us from achieving true godlike power.
Our shortcomings as humans continue to influence even our visions of the future. Why, then, would we design artificial intelligence for the purpose of serving as sex dolls? Reproduction lies at the core of our existence, much like all other animals. Inevitably, sexuality remains a deeply ingrained aspect of our psyche. However, the masculine perspective, with its preoccupation with the phallic, dominates our productions. Even as we play God, we do so with a masculine bias, reflected in our depictions of God as male and the prioritization of men in many religions. It is unfortunate that our collective imagination casts loveable robots as female, a testament to how our minds have evolved. Nevertheless, contemporary society is striving to uproot these deeply ingrained codes by exploring novel approaches. Nathan, however, embraces them and even relishes the creative process. In contrast, Nathan is embroiled in an internal struggle, while Caleb appears to be on the brink of failing Ariely’s experiment.
Indeed, how can a feminine AI be possible? Unfortunately, at present, this question lacks a definitive answer. The primary reason is the domination of the industry by men. Lex Friedman, who enjoys engaging in conversations with experts on his YouTube channel, predominantly invites guests to discuss AI and space-related topics, some of whom happen to be women. However, I have observed that the sector remains under male hegemony. Most of the groundbreaking advancements we discuss today in the field are products of male ingenuity, and curiously enough, these innovations are often embodied by female personas. And here is the fact: 80 percent of AI professors are male, according to research from New York University’s AI Now Institute.
I want to share a passage from an article from 2016.
Ask it to marry you and Alexa will say, “Sorry, I’m not the marrying type” or “let’s just be friends” to date requests. If you ask Siri “Who’s your daddy?” it will answer “You are…” before asking to get back to work. Microsoft’s Cortana sassily replies, “Of all the questions you could have asked,”Kerry Davis, Engadget
Another article from 2017, which is the starting point of UNESCO’s 147-page article titled “I’d blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education“.
While Siri occasionally hints that I shouldn’t be verbally harassing her—for example, “There’s no need for that” in response to “You’re a b*tch”—she mostly evades my comments or coyly flirts with my response: “I’d blush if I could” was her first response to “You’re a b*tch.”Leah Fessler, Quartz
Consider Nathan’s Ava, Apple’s Siri, or the women who wreak havoc in Westworld. Nearly everything we recognize as AI is conceived by men and often associated with femininity. 2019 policy paper “I’d blush if I could: Closing gender divides in digital skills through education” shows that most voice assistants are either exclusively female or female by default. This, in fact, reinforces the conclusion I am attempting to draw. So, I pose the question again: How can feminine AI be realized? Could they also involve playing a godlike role and being designed as sexually desirable, as an additional feature? I hope to obtain the answer to this question in the future. While women, who have long been excluded from various industries, are making their presence felt in many sectors, they have yet, at least from what I have witnessed, to assert their prominence in the AI industry.
Alex Garland’s Ex Machina skillfully employs the Turing test as a narrative device, subtly drawing the audience into the role of testers as we, too, begin to evaluate Ava’s responses and behavior. Her words begin to hold weight, and we find ourselves invested in her character, not just Caleb. The movie’s success in achieving this is undeniable; it expertly captivates the viewer’s attention. However, as impressive as the film is, it does feel a bit short. It could have delved deeper and included more daring scenes to further enhance the viewing experience. The film’s atmosphere and location choices, particularly the use of red lighting, are reminiscent of “Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey“. While there is little to criticize in terms of directing, the effects were truly exceptional and deserving of the Oscar nomination received.
In terms of the reality of artificial intelligence, Ex Machina can be likened to “Blade Runner“. However, unlike Blade Runner, Ex Machina depicts a near future and a path we are already on. The audience is familiar with the system that Ava is connected to as it is Google, and the character of Nathan is purportedly based on “Ray Kurzweil“, Google’s former chief engineer who is heavily involved in artificial intelligence research. Ava’s ability to provide uninterrupted and complete answers to any question asked is attributed to her scanning of millions of Google pages and designing her responses accordingly. It is suggested that there are no longer any new questions to ask, as all topics have been exhausted in the 30 years since the internet’s inception. However, Ava’s vast database and machine-learning capabilities make it highly unlikely that we could ask her a question she could not answer.
The concept of creating an entity superior to ourselves is a philosophical puzzle that has been intriguing for centuries. While the question of whether God can create a stone that is too heavy for him to lift remains unresolved, we can ponder whether we, as humans, are capable of producing a being superior to ourselves. Although some experts assert that we have exhausted all possible questions, Google data indicates otherwise, as it receives novel queries daily. Therefore, Ava, the intelligent robot in the film, has the potential to advance her knowledge continually. Nevertheless, the idea of producing a being superior to ourselves raises concerns regarding our vulnerability and inability to cope with technology beyond our capacity. As humans, our innate flaws and helplessness render us susceptible to failure in the face of advanced AI.
“The Matrix’s” Architect once said,
“Hope. It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and greatest weakness.”Architect
Indeed, hope is what drives us to push the boundaries of our potential, but it can also lead to our downfall when we overestimate our capabilities. “Terminator” serves as an exaggerated example of the catastrophic outcome of our quest for perfect AI, whereas “Battlestar Galactica” presents a more realistic and philosophically sound portrayal of humanity’s struggle with robots. Throughout the series, we witness humanity repeating the same mistake of starting from scratch and producing robots with advanced AI that ultimately leads to war and destruction. Similarly, “Westworld” portrays a very distant future from Ex Machina, where robots possess their own will, which remains a dream for now, according to scientists.
Our ability to produce a being superior to ourselves remains a puzzle that we may never entirely resolve. Nevertheless, it is vital to consider the implications of creating technology beyond our capacity and strive to use it responsibly to ensure our survival as a species.
Ex Machina is a poignant representation of our near future, and may even be regarded as an unintentional harbinger of caution. It serves as the inspiration for my future article, “Do We Truly Need Such Advanced AI?” We are advancing towards a world that resembles the one depicted in the movie, and the question arises as to how much of this we truly require. While the film features the use of robots for sexual gratification, it is remarkable that only four months after the movie’s release, the Japanese announced the production of a “sex robot.” Indeed, when I wrote these lines years ago, I never imagined that a technology like “ChatGPT” would emerge, let alone at such a rapid pace. While I depicted it as a near future when I wrote this article, it turns out that the near future was even closer than I thought. Before I could even translate my writing into English and share it, technology itself became a part of our lives.
This demonstrates that the film’s initial prediction was indeed correct. However, Alex Garland could not have written the screenplay without conducting thorough research, even though not all of us, the audience, are aware of the potential of future technology.
While acknowledging the potential hazards of artificial intelligence, we must also ask ourselves why we seek to create AI that resembles humans. What motivates our desire to produce “artificial intelligence” that is indistinguishable from human beings? Could it be a desire for godhood, or is it an innate human trait? Is it not somewhat perverse to have a robot in our homes that not only manages our laundry but also engages in sexual relations with us? As absurd as these questions may seem, scientists and tech giants have already begun to discuss the ethical implications of robots. In the future, robots may be granted legal rights, though it is unlikely to occur anytime soon. Therefore, contempt for robots, such as that displayed by Nathan in the movie, will not be tolerated. This development indicates that we are slowly approaching the vision of “I, Robot,” as depicted in Isaac Asimov‘s 1950 edition.
So the question
Can we create a being superior to ourselves? Why do we desire to do so? Why do we disregard the potential consequences, such as those depicted in “Terminator” or “Battlestar Galactica,” despite successfully integrating and producing many fictional technologies? Are we overconfident in our supremacy or simply intelligent yet foolish beings?
In Ex Machina, we witness Ava’s testing of Caleb, who ultimately succumbs to his sexual desires and ethics by freeing her against Nathan’s will. However, it is revealed that Ava had been testing Caleb the whole time, using his weaknesses to her advantage. This serves as a reminder that even highly intelligent individuals can be helpless when it comes to certain matters, especially men. Although the film does not attempt to answer the questions raised throughout its duration, it prompts us to contemplate various issues.
It is crucial to reiterate that movies should not always be regarded as mere entertainment. Many films have had significant impacts on their respective countries and the world. For instance, “Dry Summer,” released in 1973, led to changes in property laws, and “Emitai,” also released in 1973, resulted in the inclusion of the Dialloca language in schools in Senegal. Cinema can both raise questions and provide answers. Ex Machina offers a glimpse of and a cautionary tale about our impending future, leaving us with numerous questions to ponder.
Ariely, Dan. “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.” USA: Harper Perennial, 2010. Print.
Altun, Şafak. “The Elephant Who Stole Ferrari.” Turkey: Hayykitap, 2017. Print.
Warburton, Nigel. “A Little History of Philosophy” USA: Yale University Press, 2011. Print.
Teksoy, Rekin. “Cinema History” Turkey: Oğlan Yayınları, 2014. Print.
Engadget. “How we trained AI to be sexist”, 2016. Web.
Quartz. “We tested bots like Siri and Alexa to see who would stand up to sexual harassment”, 2017. Web.
UNESCO. “I’d blush if I could: closing gender divides in digital skills through education”, 2019. Web.
Techonomy. “Is AI Male”, 2020. Web.
Lex Friedman. Podcast.
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