Some thoughts on ‘Ex Machina’ (2015)

SPOILER ALERT: don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film yet, and intend to.

I’ve been mearning to watch Ex Machina for a few months now. I don’t go to the cinema by myself, so train journeys are usually the only times I get to watch films in which my wife wouldn’t be interested.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I was expecting from the film. Probably explosions and special effects. Instead, what I found was a really philosophically-interesting dive into what counts as ‘personhood’.

There’s so much in the film to discuss. The brilliant creator who has to numb his genius with alcohol. The part where Caleb questions his own humanity and cuts himself. The ‘ship of Theseus’ moment where Ava reconfigures herself from other AI’s body parts.

At the moment I feel like we’re at a juncture where we want to collectively show how ‘human’ we are by expressing emotion. Even interviews with footballers after matches focus on how they feel.

What I thought Ex Machina did really well was show that even an AI that seems to express emotion can still, at its core, be cold and calculating. There’s something intensely amoral about Ava and the way she stabs Nathan before escaping. This is framed in the strapline to the film as there being ‘nothing more human than the will to survive’.

The audience is left thinking, of course, that there is something very un-human about Ava’s lack of empathy for Nathan’s death and Caleb’s incarceration. We sympathise with her own ‘imprisonment’ but actions like Ava’s are usually reserved for villains.

I’d love to teach a course about what visions of the future can tell us about the present. There’s a whole host of movies I’d use to teach philosophical concepts to those arriving blinking (and philosophically incoherent) into adult life.