Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ex Machina: Intelligent AI Movie with a Potent Surprise at the End

Movie Review: Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina isn't so much a robot movie as it is a movie about artificial intelligence (AI). It just so happens that this AI has a body and so takes the form of a robot. And so the whole plot for this movie revolves around AI consciousness issues. And it explores those issues intelligently and with a potent surprise at the end.

As the story begins, the main character, Caleb, wins a company competition to spend a week with his reclusive boss, Nathan, on a top secret project. To what purpose? As the smartest, most adept company programmer, it's his job to determine if Nathan's latest AI model, Ava, can pass the Turing Test and appear totally consciously aware.

The setting is a secure remote location that is so removed from civilization, access requires arrival by helicopter and a walk along and across a river. Nathan immediately sets boundaries, like providing access to only certain rooms of the underground bunker by swipe card. And Caleb interviews Ava behind a reinforced-glass barrier. Throughout the interview process, Nathan watches by video - in fact, there are times Nathan watches Caleb by video when Caleb isn't at all aware of the surveillance.

As Caleb interviews Ava, he asks a series of questions to determine if Ava is actually thinking on her own or she is merely acting on an algorithm that mimics individual thought. Pretty soon the question isn't just whether Ava can think on her own, but whether Ava "likes" Caleb. And the questions continue to morph as the interviews progress.

Ava has control over the bunker power and turns it off occasionally, using the short power outages to say things to Caleb while the sound is cut to Nathan. She creates doubt in Caleb's mind whether Nathan is telling Caleb the truth. When Caleb has finally had enough, he creates a plan to escape with Ava.

But then we discover that as much as we think we know what's going on, we find new twists to the plot, twists the lead to a real surprise.

I have to say, this is one of the creepiest AI movies I have seen. I'm not all comfortable with the idea of developing AI to its fullest extent as it is, and Ex Machina does nothing make me any more comfortable with the idea. As a story, it's a brilliantly executed bait-and-switch, not that you aren't expecting twists and turns, but more that you aren't expecting what you finally get.

This movie obviously isn't for kids. Teens will probably lap it up. Techies and geeks will likely love it. If you like science fiction/mystery and technology and are interested in the idea of artificial intelligence, likely you will like Ex Machina, too. But I'm betting you won't see the end coming and it's really worth seeing the movie just for that surprise.

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