Ex Machina (2015)
Director: Alex Garland
Writer: Alex Garland
Cinematographer: Rob Hardy
by Jon Cvack
An eccentric wealthy man, battling his own demons, is always a call out to someone in present day society, whether Charles Kane as William Randolph Hearst in Citizen Kane, or in this case Nathan Bateman as Steve Jobs or Elon Musk in Ex Machina. In a larger context, Bateman's a man embodying the passionate, ceaseless drive toward technological advancement, with Artificial Intelligence hanging just the around the corner. It's not a question of if any longer, but when.
In a vodka-inspired conversation, of which I can’t find the exact quote, Bateman says people always want to think advancement is going to be fine. Shift out A.I. and put in most modern scientific discoveries - the universe is dying, climate change is much worse than we thought, there isn’t enough money being invested in Public R&D, etc. - and you see that the same philosophy applies. Everyone assumes it'll get better, expecting someone will eventually find the solution - to nuclear weapons, to wealth concentration, and to the dangers of Artificial Intelligence. Popular stories contribute to this view, with smart science fiction films - Shane Caruth’s filmography, Terminator 1 & 2, 2001, The Road, etc. exploring the dangers of technology - but unfortunately many of these have a Hollywood Ending: the robot is killed, the machine is destroyed, the threat averted. Combined with a world history that demonstrably found solutions to its overwhelming problems, it has conditioned many into thinking that somewhere down the line the issues will inevitably be resolved; serving as a type of building on fire with the dozen bystanders all thinking someone else is calling the police. Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have warned about where the technology could lead. It’s a thought experiment that’s all too easy to imagine.
For instance, technology could theoretically replace our current form of representative government. Think of what purpose the representative actually served back when the position was created. Formerly a person represented the views of those who elected him or the area in which he was elected. This was required as the people could not travel to the Capital in order to vote on what was best, nor would it have been efficient if they could. A representative resolved the problem. Now, though - with fingerprint technology, for instance - we could vote on the issues ourselves. I think there would still be a need for someone to manage the day to day operations, between sitting on committees, introducing legislation, sponsoring bills, etc., serving as a kind of Elected Secretary, but for the most part fingerprint technology could honor what we, as the voter's, desire. Think of gun control, where 90% of the country wants additional regulations and yet nothing has been done. Of course, misinformation would run wild and money could play a frightening role in more or less advertising for votes, prompting people to vote outside their best interest, yet with the proper protections, such as ensuring there’s a proper balance in discussing each side (see California Ballot Initiatives), or regulating the advertising for these initiatives (California doesn’t do this), we could have a more direct role in how our government functions. I challenge you to think of what problematic issues this would create versus what the current system offers, given its <10% approval rating.
Or taking a different and more frightening direction altogether, imagine if A.I. was our elected official. One of the first things advanced A.I. would see is the ineffectiveness of our government. The machines would assess the data and govern accordingly to its constituents. It would likely show better efficiency, and better reflect their views (in the short term), which could inspire other districts to elect A.I. Machines, which might then create a massive machine representative government rather than having separate individual ones, creating one large machine that can extrapolate and analyze all the data and govern accordingly, which might in the short term be able to create decent lives for underprivileged people, and in the long might see humans as worthless. You can see how it goes...
Nathan says, “One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.” So as much as you might want to scoff at all of these ideas, Ex Machina is trying to raise this specific point. We assume it'll be fine and that all these ideas seem fantastical. But we are now in an age of technology that exceeded what most films once showed. I recall watching The Saint ('97) and thinking how cool the technology was, portraying a phone that doubled as a computer with keyboard and all. As The Cable Guy said, "The future is now." The next technological wave are now the things many of us thought we'd never see in our lifetime - legitimate and immersive Virtual Reality, powerful computers fitting right in our pockets, and Artificial Intelligence.
We are now on the rising action, with the problems of highly advanced technology lingering right around the corner, with us assuming it'll be safely handled by someone else, and all will be fine; for some reason no one takes into consideration the relatively infinite amount of time that stands before us . There will likely be a year 10,810 in the United States. Think of where we were two thousand years ago, and now quintuple that, and given the progress of technology in the last decade, imagine where we'll be. It’s truly unimaginable - as in I can't can't even think what it might be like, because all I know is what exists now and it's all so close to perfection - games, movies, VR, our phones, and home computers. Most of this came about in the last hundred years. I can't fathom adding another hundred times to that amount. For a minute drop any possibility that things might turn out okay, and that humans could begin to lose their place in the world, however slowly. And then think that there are planets with intelligent life out there which are millions of years ahead of us, existing right now, as you read this, separated only by distance. Could they have ever survived?
All of these thoughts and so many more. Alex Garland has made an extremely prescient movie.
BELOW: Not many clips from the film on YouTube, but this BTS interview with Alex Garland is pretty good
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