Ex Machina’s Artificial Intelligence: What Does It Say About Humanity?

There is no #YOLO in the AI world.


By Julia Arciga

Illustration by Annika Hanson

Ex Machina does something that is rarely achieved well in today’s sci-fi film realm. It blends science with philosophy to bring the viewer to a breaking-point question: What really makes a human human, and can it be truly replicated through Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

Que internal existential crisis about what defines humanity

One of the big plot points of the movie is a little something called the Turing Test created by Alan Turing (yes, the same Alan Turing from The Imitation Game). Basically, the Turing Test is a sort of pass-fail for AI—if the AI can pass as a human in conversation, then it’s “en route to true intelligence.” In the movie, the brilliant and scary Nathan— the CEO of a Google-esque company and the creator of the AI— wants to take the Turing Test a step further, and test whether his AI displays a convincing enough human-like cognizance to supercede the fact that the AI is known to be artificial.

Enter Caleb

Caleb is a coder for Nathan’s company. He is shipped out to Nathan’s compound and told that he has been selected to help Nathan test his AI. For seven consecutive days, Caleb tests this AI by simply having a conversation with it… or her?

Enter Ava

Ava is surprisingly human in form. She talks. She has a name. She walks, sits, and kneels. You can see her robotic internal mechanics, her wires and metal structure, in everything but her face. The real kicker in this is that AI and Machine Learning are practically synonymous in Ava, meaning that the more time she spends with Caleb, the smoother the conversation will be and, in theory, the more convincingly human she will become.

So, what is a human? Are we our organic bodies? Are we just action and reaction? Are we just a skin sac of dynamic, responsive nodes and nerve endings with a skeletal structure? Recent scientific breakthroughs have shown that organs and realistic-feeling skin can all be grown in a lab, and action-reaction mechanics can be found in Furby doll.

It also seems that with technology, advancements are being made for advancement’s sake, and perfection is being chased but with little purpose behind it. Are we creating new technologies to better human life, or are we just looking for something better, faster, and more cutting-edge? Exponential advancement is seemingly the only road that’s ahead–and this will soon lead to the looming “technological singularity.” When robots and AI get to the point of being more intelligent than humans, where will we stand? Is humanity no longer sacred in the world of science? Where will we draw the line?

Que the debate

I think everyone would agree that there’s a little more to us humans than just action, response, and dynamic processing of external stimuli. We have emotions, and physical reactions to them. We experience guilt, joy, sadness, empathy–and these emotions affect our actions and reactions. We also tend to act altruistically, so human emotions and actions do not follow objective logic at times.

What I’ve come to conclude after Ex Machina posed this important question is that AI is mission-based. AI has a “Point A to Point B” type of linear “thinking”: To get the desired result, I have to do this, this, and this. While the steps toward the desired result may be extremely sophisticated, they are still solely goal-oriented. Are humans sometimes like this? Yes, but the major difference is that humans are sometimes like this while AI always follows this process and can not stray from it. 

Artificial Intelligence, in my belief, is all about appearances. I’ll frown to be sad. I’ll smile to be happy. I will do one action to elicit a result, and I’ll have to react to the reaction to further my mission. There is no true emotion. There is no #YOLO in the AI world. Humans, on the other hand, are all about experiences. An AI can experience a situation and learn from it, yes. But those takeaways will not be like a human’s takeaways. An AI will never experience a first love or a heartbreak. They will never be able to experience true gratitude or tranquility. They will never be able to write a poem borne out of true feeling. They will never be able to experience the miracle of life. Their origins are from our minds and our hands; they are made of strong synthetics. Humans are born from our earthy and cosmic histories; we are made of stardust. That is the essence of human, and it’s something that can’t be coded.

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