Monday, May 8, 2017

Ex Machina

Year 9, Day 128 - 5/8/17 - Movie #2,623

BEFORE: I was hoping to get to this one last year, around the time of "The Danish Girl" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", for obvious reasons, but it didn't happen.  No premium channel aired it in time - in fact, they still haven't, but a couple months back I paid $1.99 to get this On Demand - I wanted to pair it on a DVD with "Chappie", which had been taking up space on my DVR for months.

Domhnall Gleeson carries over from "Unbroken". 

THE PLOT: A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.

AFTER: Well, if you know anything about artificial intelligence, or have seen "Blade Runner", then you know what a Turing test is - if a person cannot determine whether they're having a conversation with a real person or a computer, then that computer has passed the test.  That's the set-up for this film, where a billionaire who owns some kind of search engine/Facebook-like company wants to build the first robot that can pass the test, and he invites the smartest programmer in his company to his remote estate to meet the A.I. and talk to it.

OK, a couple of points, in a true Turing test, the person doing the evaluation is not supposed to KNOW in advance that they're conversing with an A.I., that's sort of the essence of the test.  The film does address this point, but the explanation for putting the answer before the question doesn't really hold water.  The inventor figures that his robot's brain is so good that even if the evaluator knows the answer, he could still be convinced that the robot can think for itself.  Umm, herself?

Yep, he went and built a robot that looks like an attractive woman, because men, am I right?  What's the point of creating a robot that can think for itself unless you can also be attracted to it, and program it like a pleasure-bot?  (Depending on where you stand on this issue, you may feel like you need a shower after this film...)  I guess this is supposed to raise a lot of questions about sex with robots, like if we have "Real Dolls" already, why is there a need or desire to give them robot brains?  But then again, any real advance in technology is moved along faster (DVDs, internet) if it helps people get their rocks off.  I'm not sure if that makes me want to laugh or cry.

This point is also addressed in the film, but I'm not really buying that explanation either.  If you wonder why someone would assign a gender to a robot, which is essentially gender-neutral, the programmer's response (and by default, the movie's) is a shrug, as if to say, "Why not?"  Umm, because it's icky, not to mention really low-brow?  

There's a reason for setting this film in a remote location, I suppose, because if things go wrong, which you know they could, it becomes one of those locked-room type horror shows.  The fact that the robot is kept isolated in a room behind plexiglass should also be a clue that there's potential for bad nastiness here.  This gets sort of confirmed when there are locked rooms that our young hero cannot access, and also mysterious power outages that knock out all of the surveillance cameras. 

But in addition to the Turing test, most people who know about robotics are also familiar with Asimov's Laws of Robotics, which nearly everyone agrees are good suggestions to keep in mind.  They are: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or allow one to be harmed through inaction, 2) A robot must obey human beings unless such orders conflict with the first law, and 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does now interfere with the first and second laws.

For the events depicted late in this film to take place, that would mean that someone ignored these laws of robotics when they wrote programming, and why would anyone do that?  This would be like building new self-driving cars, and defiantly not including brakes.  I admit I didn't see the end coming, but I sure figured out the first of the film's twists, if not the second one.  And the ending doesn't really work, but I specifically say why without giving it away.

NITPICK POINT: I get that this situation is presented as a giant mind-freak for the main character, but he ends up so confused by his conversation with the A.I. that he starts to suspect that he might be a robot himself.  This is a HUGE leap in logic, and I'm not sure how he made it.  I mean, he's got memories of his childhood, right?  And he's got an enormous amount of empirical evidence to disprove this theory, like the fact that he feels hunger, thirst and emotions - so how does he arrive at this theory?  Because it's quite unclear. 

Also starring Oscar Isaac (last seen in "Body of Lies"), Alicia Vikander (last seen in "The Danish Girl"), Sonoya Mizuno, Corey Johnson (last seen in "Kingsman: The Secret Service").

RATING: 5 out of 10 micro-expressions

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