Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Malevolent Robot

The first thing I thought after watching Ex Machina was that I needed to disengage myself from all of my social networks.  Did I do that? No (of course not).  But just what is being done with all that data?  Surely there must be a use for it beyond just trying to sell us stuff.  What if all that data was being funneled and archived to create the most sentient artificial being imaginable?  This question is one of the thought-provoking premises addressed in Ex Machina.  The story follows Caleb who has just “won” the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a week with his reclusive employer Nathan.  Nathan is some sort of coding prodigy who has built a social networking empire called BlueBook.  [Really? Facebook much?  Not only is this the partial name of a car-buying guide, but it’s also the name of a legal citation guide published by my alma mater.  A big fat D for originality on this bit.  But I digress.] Nathan asks Caleb to test his latest and greatest creation, Ava, an artificially intelligent robot, to gauge her human-like qualities.  But like all dystopian thrillers, Nathan isn’t quite what he seems and neither is Ava.  And Caleb, to his detriment, is the last to know.

It occurred to me that in many stories about intelligent machines, the circumstances of human beings take a turn for the worse.  Is this because all machines are inherently evil or because machines inevitably take on the worst characteristics of the human beings who build them?  Pinocchio was a liar before he was a real boy, after all.  Are we gods creating superior gadgets, or are we men creating flawed apparatuses?  The Terminator series of films answered similar questions with sturm und drang; Ex Machina, in contrast, is quiet and subtle, but just as dire in its examination.  In a year that has so far been unsatisfying in its cinematic offerings to date, Ex Machina is a welcome respite from mindless fare cluttering the cinemaplex.  
[In addition, the  visuals are quite striking, including the Norwegian mountainside used as the site of Nathan’s home.  Also, listen out for echoes of the chords from Close Encounters of the Third Kind throughout the score.]

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