Ex Machina movie review


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Ex Machina movie review

By Edward Hudgins

May 12, 2015 -- How will we know if an artificial intelligence actually attains a human level of consciousness?

As work in robotics and merging man and machine accelerates, we can expect more movies on this theme. Some, like Transcendence, will be dystopian warnings of potential dangers. Others, like Ex Machina, elicit serious thought about what it is to be human. Combining a good story and good acting, Ex Machina should interest technophiles and humanists alike.

The Turing Test

The film opens on Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) , a 27 year old programmer at uber-search-engine company Blue Book, who wins a lottery to spend a week at the isolated mountain ex-machina-review-objectivism.jpghome of the company’s reclusive genius creator, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). But the hard-drinking, eccentric Nathan tells Caleb that they’re not only going to hang out and get drunk.

He has created an android AI named Ava (Alicia Vikander) with a mostly woman-like, but part robot-like, appearance. The woman part is quite attractive. Nathan wants Caleb to spend the week administering the Turing Test to determine whether the AI shows intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. Normally this test is administered so the tester cannot see whether he’s dealing with a human and or machine. The test consists of exchanges of questions and answers, and is usually done in some written form. Since Caleb already knows Ava is an AI, he really needs to be convinced in his daily sessions with her, reviewed each evening with Nathan, that Nathan has created, in essence, a sentient, self-conscious human. It’s a high bar.

Android sexual attraction

Ava is kept locked in a room where her behavior can be monitored 24/7. Caleb talks to her through a glass, and at first he asks standard questions any good techie would ask to determine if she is human or machine. But soon Ava is showing a clear attraction to Caleb. The feeling is mutual.

In another session Ava is turning the tables. She wants to know about Caleb and be his friend. But during one of the temporary power outages that seems to plague Nathan’s house, when the monitoring devices are off, Ava tells Caleb that Nathan is not his friend and not to trust him. When the power comes back on, Ava reverts to chatting about getting to know Caleb.

In another session, when Ava reveals she’s never allowed out of the room, Caleb asks where she would choose to go if she could leave. She says to a busy traffic intersection. To people watch! Curiosity about humanity!

Ava then asks Caleb to close his eyes and she puts on a dress and wig to cover her robot parts. She looks fully human. She says she’d wear this if they went on a date. Nathan later explains that he gave Ava gender since no human is without one. That is part of human consciousness. Nathan also explains that he did not program her specifically to like Caleb. And he explains that she is fully sexually functional.

A human form of awareness

In another session Caleb tells Ava what she certainly suspects, that he is testing her. To communicate what he’s looking for, he offers the “Mary in a Black and White Room” thought experiment. Mary has always lived in a room with no colors. All views of the outside world are through black and white monitors. But she understands everything about the physics of color and about how the human eyes and brain process color. But does she really “know” or “understand” color—the “qualia”—until she walks outside and actually sees the blue sky?

Is Ava’s imitation of the human level of consciousness or awareness analogous to Mary’s consciousness or awareness of color when in the black and white room, purely theoretical? Is Ava simply a machine, a non-conscious automaton running a program by which she mimics human emotions and traits?

Ava is concerned with what will happen if she does not pass the Turing test. Nathan later tells Caleb that he thinks the AI after Ava will be the one he’s aiming for. And what will happen to Ava? The program will be downloaded and the memories erased. Caleb understands that this means Ava’s death.

Who’s testing whom?

During a blackout, this one of Nathan in a drunken stupor, Caleb borrows Nathan’s passcard to access closed rooms, and he discovers some disturbing truths about what proceeded Ava and led to her creation.

In the next session, during a power outage, Ava and Caleb plan an escape from the facility. They plan to get Nathan drunk, change the lock codes on the doors, and get out at the next power outage.

But has Nathan caught on? On the day Caleb is scheduled to leave he tells Nathan that Ava has passed the Turing Test. But Nathan asks whether Caleb thinks Ava is just pretending to like Caleb in order to escape. If so, this would show human intelligence and would mean that Ava indeed has passed the test.

But who is testing and manipulating whom and to what end? The story takes a dramatic, shocking turn as the audience finds out who sees through whose lies and deceptions. Does Mary ever escape from the black and white room? Is Ava really conscious like a human?

What it means to be human

In this fascinating film, writer/director Alex Garland explores what it is to be human in terms of basic drives and desires. There is the desire to know, understand, and experience. There is the desire to love and be loved. There is the desire to be free to choose. And there is the love of life.

But to be human is also to be aware that others might block one from pursuing human goals, that others can be cruel, and they can lie and deceive. There is the recognition that one might need to use the same behavior in order to be human.

If thinkers like Singularity theorist Ray Kurzweil are right, AIs might be passing the Turing Test within a few decades. But even if they don’t, humans will more and more rely on technologies that could enhance our minds and capacities and extend our lives. As we do so, it will be even more important that we keep in mind what it is to be human and what is best about being human. Ex Machina will not only provide you with an entertaining evening at the movies It will also help you use that very human capacity, the imagination, to prepare your mind to meet these challenges.
----
Hudgins is a senior scholar and Director of Advocacy at The Atlas Society.

Explore:

Edward Hudgins, How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us From Curing Death. April 22, 2015.

Edward Hudgins, Google, Entrepreneurs, and Living 500 Years. March 12, 2015

Edward Hudgins, Book Review: Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think. April 24, 2013.

William Thomas, Transhumanism: How Does it Relate to Objectivism?

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AI's have already passed a Turing Test. They passed it in the sense that the humans couldn't consistently distinguish human from machine. As to whether the AI's demonstrated intelligent human behavior is another question. Key word being intelligent, as humans often aren't intelligent in the strict sense of the word. However, it is enough to say that the machine's questions and answers were somewhat indistinguishable from that of a human's, thus, they passed the Turing Test.

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If I were writing a technical piece rather than a movie review I'd point out limits to the Turing Test. In the movie they actually going beyond the Turing Test with the Mary in a black and white room thought experiment. Deeper than what the Turing Test can tell us is whether an entity has volition and self-awareness, which as implications for experiencing "qualia." And as I'm sure you know, the concept of volition is one that is not simple to formulate for humans. I can give the Objectivist definition but that still leaves a lot of issues open.

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Edward Hudgins, How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us From Curing Death. April 22, 2015.

Sorry Ed. There is no "cure for death" The second law of thermodynamics will manifest itself sooner or later.

The entire cosmos is doomed to be cold, dark and un-alive.

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Edward Hudgins, How Anti-Individualist Fallacies Prevent Us From Curing Death. April 22, 2015.

Sorry Ed. There is no "cure for death" The second law of thermodynamics will manifest itself sooner or later.

The entire cosmos is doomed to be cold, dark and un-alive.

It's hot, bright and alive right now?

What do you need to know to know you're wrong? Or just might be?

Why are you so sure you're right?

There is more in heaven and hell then your continual gloomy default.

The validity of the Second Law of has not anything necessary to do with the totality of existence which we cannot begin to get our brains around. If it all started then it's all going to stop it's gotta be able to start all over again or it never would have started in the first place. The only case you can begin to make a case for is the known universe, but not for existence and reality itself.

I want to hear this from God; from you it has no utility except to cause a youngster accidentally coming into OL to finally be confirmed in his suicidal tendencies.

Why do you think anybody here gives a shit about your regurgitation of a common idea amongst the scientific intelligentsia already served up many times for public consumption and which is of some controversy regardless for reality has more than one or two possible explanations as to where it began--if it "began"--to where it's all going to bullions and bullions of years from now?

Your condescension to Ed, an extremely knowledgeable and well educated man, is off the charts it's so completely uncalled for. It's not even fit for a college student bull session not fueled by alcohol.

--Brant

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Why do you think anybody here gives a shit about your regurgitation of a common idea amongst the scientific intelligentsia already served up many times for public consumption and which is of some controversy regardless for reality has more than one or two possible explanations as to where it began--if it "began"--to where it's all going to bullions and bullions of years from now?

Your condescension to Ed, an extremely knowledgeable and well educated man, is off the charts it's so completely uncalled for. It's not even fit for a college student bull session not fueled by alcohol.

--Brant

It is a matter of being accurate. There is no "cure" for death. Lifespan can be extended in some cases but there is a limit to that.

When it comes to 2LOT and the Law of Consistency I am a stickler and I do not suffer error gladly

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Why do you think anybody here gives a shit about your regurgitation of a common idea amongst the scientific intelligentsia already served up many times for public consumption and which is of some controversy regardless for reality has more than one or two possible explanations as to where it began--if it "began"--to where it's all going to bullions and bullions of years from now?

Your condescension to Ed, an extremely knowledgeable and well educated man, is off the charts it's so completely uncalled for. It's not even fit for a college student bull session not fueled by alcohol.

--Brant

It is a matter of being accurate. There is no "cure" for death. Lifespan can be extended in some cases but there is a limit to that.

When it comes to 2LOT and the Law of Consistency I am a stickler and I do not suffer error gladly

AH! The universe is alive? Youth, middle age, old age then death. What happens to life will happen to all physicality. We know this by using life as a metaphor for everything except there is no getting from the metaphor to facts for the former can't support the latter for there are no facts in any metaphor which is for illustrative purposes only. Since no human can get their head around the totality of reality, God was invented. Yep, there are some things (and reasons) "known only to God."

Bob, the immodesty of religion doesn't jibe with the modesty of science, but you've given it a good try by trying to do religion even one better.

--Brant

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In a Woody Allen movie we see his character as a child refusing to do his homework or something of the sort because the universe is expanding and will be winding down in billions of years. He mother protests that “Brooklyn is not expanding!” Woody was making fun of this sort of childishness.

Arguments about whether the universe is doomed to heat death, whether there is a context for the Second Law of Thermodynamics or whatever is of interest in advanced physics discussions. (I attended a lecture some years ago by Freeman Dyson on the prospects for sentient life continuing based on a Big Crunch, a slowing to a near halt expansion, and acceleration.)

What is important is our prospects now and in the near future and, if the technologies can be developed, extending our capacities and our lives to the greatest extent that we can. How long? I don’t know. Neither does anyone else. But to not try is to guarantee failure.

Ayn Rand liked to say that an era has a leitmotif. But the age of Enlightenment has been replaced by the age of envy. I would say that the optimism and idealism of the past has been replaced by the pessimism and cynicism.

So in addition to the technological, life-enhancing breakthroughs that come out of the Google/Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, we have the possibility for a restoration of the hope and promise both of today and tomorrow, for a world as it can be and should be!

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Ed,

Brant's right.

That was an excellent review.

Now I want to see this movie.

About the expanding universe, I left a friend of mine speechless the other day about something I blurted out.

We were talking about how scientists arrived at the big bang. After the usual jokes about cosmic orgasm, etc., I said the problem was in inferring things through time while positing a beginning of time. Scientists have noticed that the universe was expanding, so they simply presumed that if they ran the expansion numbers backwards, they would get to a beginning point. But that presumes an awful lot we don't and can't observe.

Then we started talking about how the planets and galaxies and so on resemble atoms, molecules, etc., and how it would be cool if we were actually living within the equivalent of a molecule for something bigger.

Then I blurted out, "And what if the universe is expanding because it's breathing and taking a really long time? And later it will exhale?"

My friend tried to say something several times, but just fell off into silence.

:smile:

Michael

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Thanks MSK, Brant!

I originally majored in physics and astronomy so I find these discussions very interesting. Since space-time breaks down at the singularity we project when we run the Big Bang (not Bank!) backwards--similar to the breakdown occurring in black holes, we can't really say what happens. Hawking speculates that maybe asking what came before hte Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole on the surface of our sphere? The question doesn't make sense.

But none of these uncertainties should deter us from acting to expand our knowledge, our capacities, and our lives!

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Thanks MSK, Brant!

I originally majored in physics and astronomy so I find these discussions very interesting. Since space-time breaks down at the singularity we project when we run the Big Bank backwards--similar to the breakdown occurring in black holes, we can't really say what happens. Hawking speculates that maybe asking what came before hte Big Bang is like asking what is north of the North Pole on the surface of our sphere? The question doesn't make sense.

But none of these uncertainties should deter us from acting to expand our knowledge, our capacities, and our lives!

I agree. Run the "Big Bank" backwards. Make it small!

--Brant (consumed by envy)

take that, Midas Mulligan!

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