Ex Machina – a smart, suspenseful satire of our technology gods

Garland's riveting thriller takes fresh look at AI


Film review It’s not easy to say something new about artificial intelligence in the movies. It’s pretty much a toss-up between the they-could-be-people-too argument of sweet child robot David in A.I. or the sphincter-tightening terror of HAL and the Terminator. But with Ex Machina, we get a more complex picture of our android future packaged in a wickedly smart and funny film that sends up our technology gods at the same time.

Oscar Isaac is gleefully arrogant as Nathan, the nightmare interpretation of a Steve Jobs/Elon Musk/Eric Schmidt character with more than a touch of a superiority complex. He mixes proclamations of his own godhood with heartfelt frat-boy utterances of “Dude ...” to the utterly bewildered and starstruck employee Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who believes he’s won a once-in-a-lifetime company competition to hang out with the reclusive founder for a week.

Nathan created the top search engine in the world, Bluebook, but lives in an isolated, idyllic and highly secure mountain home, where every door has to be accessed with a keycard and half the facility is underground. When Caleb shows up, Nathan is out the back beating a punch-bag. His request that Caleb skip the part of the visit where he’s nervous and awestruck is rather undermined by the fact that he didn’t come to the door to meet him or guide him through the odd security process.

It quickly becomes apparent that Caleb isn’t there just to hang out and drink beer – although there’ll be plenty of that going on with the almost perpetually drinking Nathan – he’s there to conduct the ultimate Turing Test on an android artificial intelligence dubbed Ava. And to keep track of it all, Nathan will be filming their sessions – along with pretty much everything else that goes on in the house.

Ex_Machina_2

The underground lair, doors that don’t yield to Caleb’s card and the constant monitoring plunge the whole experience into claustrophobia and paranoia from the start. Caleb is no fool and quickly begins to suspect the motives and methods of Nathan, who gets steadily stranger as the experiment progresses. And, of course, there is Ava, the pretty and perplexing robot that seems to need Caleb in ways he wasn’t expecting.

Plenty of reviews have called this a smart movie, and with good reason, there’s never a moment where you aren’t second-guessing everything that’s happening and many of your guesses will turn out to be wrong. Alex Garland, in his directorial debut, telegraphs the ominous signals that all is not well right from the start, but doesn’t make it the least bit easy to figure out what exactly it is that’s wrong.

A smart, stylish thriller would be great, but Ex Machina is fantastic, largely because of the black humour that pops up just when the tension is thrumming, surprising a darkly funny laugh out of you without upsetting the growing suspense. It’s rare to say something new about AI, but it’s even rarer to watch a thriller that makes you laugh, makes you think and keeps you guessing right to the end.

Don’t miss this one. ®

Ex Machina trailer

Ex_Machina poster Title Ex Machina
Writer/Director Alex Garland
Cast Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander
Release date 23 January (UK) / 10 April (US)
More info Movie website

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022