Opinion: Our Fascination With A.I (Humans and Ex Machina)

Film and TV has, for years now, successfully depicted Artificial Intelligence or A.I and its development. Whether it be the origin of ‘Robots’ in the play R.U.R, James Cameron’s revolutionary The Terminator, or Pixar’s Walle, humans and the media has always had a fascination with the potential. The potential of A.I to evolve and interact in a human state, possibly leading to the destruction of humanity. But shouldn’t we question that possible, somewhere in the minds of the mechanics, there is a different motivation, a different view of humanity, rather than just something to oppose.

What is this motivation or this drive? Two modern texts that showcase a different perspective on this ideology are Humans, a British TV Series, based on the Swedish series, Real Humans, and Ex Machina, a 2015 science fiction film. I want to discuss how both of these texts provide a different point of view of the A.I exploration, and their respective perspective of humanity.

Humans (2015)

While Humans may have a more generic setup than Ex Machina, with a world post A.I development, where the A.I or ‘synths’ have become a part of everyday living, such as cleaning houses and streets and working for large labour intensive industries, its study of the idea of A.I consciousness is extensive and poses a number of key questions. Firstly, do these synths or A.I in general actually want to ‘feel’ pain and have the emotional expression of humans, or are these desires limited purely to a rare selection. With 5 ‘conscious’ synths focussed on within the show, this idea is often blurred, as the A.I represent differing points of view of humanity, developed by their experiences and background. It is here that Humans is thoroughly thought provoking as it tackles the idea that just as there as many different perspectives of A.I and their role in society, there are also different perspectives of humanity, each category is not and should not be limited to one singular idea. Whether technology or natural, somewhere in our minds we have an expectation or desire, and Humans explores this idea by not generalising the motivations of A.I. For example, the character of Mia for example yearns for nothing but freedom, a chance to be back with her synth family. She doesn’t blame the family that ‘owns’ her and made her work, because she realises that that was the reason for synths in the first place. She doesn’t oppose or resent humanity, but rather just wants to be equal to it. However this contrasts greatly to the synth Nitska who clearly opposes the idea of synth suppression, believing they are capable of greater things and the humans holding them back from such opportunities need to be shown the power of a possible A.I resistance. However it is Nitskas’ background which is explored throughout the show that highlights that her opposition to humans comes not just from her role as a synth, being sold to a prostitution/stripping business, but from her experience of being sexually abused from her own creator. Her experience is individual, something that has developed her own mentality, again highlighting how Humans doesn’t see it’s A.I as being of one ideal, but representing many and it is this form of individual opinion and view that presents the synths as conscious. These synths are original in the way that they are presented as not only interacting with humans past the point of their reason for existence but they also have feelings and opinions while the ability to inquire about their curiosity. It is this that is at the core of Humans, a struggle between human and machine is present, yet the show teaches the audience that the opposing parties cannot be simply put into two groups. While there are some that fear the potential rise of A.I, as shown by the rallies throughout London, ‘We Are People’, others enjoy their presence such as the character that takes her synth to watch the theatre, or George, an elderly man who has formed an almost father son relationship with his outdated synth. By using multiple storylines, Humans is smart enough to highlight different representations of the idea of consciousness and while it only presents snippets of the potential consequences, focussing in one type of aftermath would be naive and ignorant of the show, because it is made up of not only one type of human or synth but many, each blurring the line between humanity and machine.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina is very different to Humans in terms of both perspective, scope and objective. While Humans is a TV Show focussing on multiple different perspectives of A.I and their role in society, Ex Machina is a film that explores A.I from one it’s first designs. Humans, through such a long form format, had the ability to divulge into these individual stories and take elements of each to present a clearer definitive discussion of A.I. Ex Machina however has to cover a lot of material in one full swoop and that is something it achieves quite successfully. Ex Machina poses the question of not only what is A.I but what is human. The film showcases the main character, Caleb, testing this new machine, Ava, to see if it is truly conscious or just projecting a simulation. To know what makes an A.I human, one must know what human is, what qualities make someone or something human, and how can this be judged. Most effectively portrayed in the film is the contrasting emotions a human can convey. While it may be easy to simulate anger or distress, through Caleb’s interactions with Ava we begin to see care and love and ultimately manipulation. These contrasting elements showcase Ava as being human in nearly every sense. While Humans used multiple characters to display different emotions, Ex Machina simply uses one to great results. The film depicts A.I not in a science fiction sense but in a dramatic human exploration. Instead of limiting A.I to one motivation or one reasoning for wanting to move beyond technology, Ex Machina, highlights that A.I are so much more unique, they are made up of multiple emotions and reasonings. Less is explored about Ava’s mechanics or science, but more about her as a whole, whether she is in fact human in quality and curiosity. While these ideals are of significance individually, it may be the films ability to show Ava develop that is most effective. By using a series of “sessions”, Ex Machina showcases how Ava develops in response to Caleb, and the expression and emotion she presents when talking with him. Ava grows and matures as she learns more about Caleb and therefore humanity. Ex Machina develops the idea that Ava is human in every sense except that she has yet to learn from others experiences. As the film continues, her response to Caleb and society is very organic, opposed to Humans mechanic, formulaic approach. But what should also be noted is that Ava is calculating. Just as humans use their curiosity for their own advantage, Ava presents an impression of naivety to fool Caleb into thinking her innocent, when really she is manipulating the situation for her own purposes, something that confirms her humanity. Ex Machina is not worried about what happens to the world after A.I revolt or become free, though this is alluded to in the ambiguous ending, or even why the A.I would yearn to destroy humanity, but purely on how do we define a conscious machine. The presentation of Ava as being multi-faceted, someone that can lie, manipulate, love, express joy, care, and show sadness and anger, makes this depiction of A.I both more realistic and more concerning, showing that in the mind of an A.I there is more reasoning and motivation than what most pop culture promotes. Normally media has always been worried about the potential of a machine uprising, Ex Machina, though, shows that these supposed ‘machines’ are actually very human and this uprising is simply A.I trying to escape technology, what the machines consider ‘natural conformity’. As Ava escapes the compound, she is escaping from technology, she embraces the nature of the forest and the hills, highlighting herself as beyond machine, a symbolic transition from the mechanical to the human. Humans promotes a discussion on the idea that because of the variety of opinions amongst the synths, there must be a presence of humanity, Ex Machina, however, is showing Ava transcend categories of machine or man as well as technological barriers. As she leaves a house essentially built of modernistic elements such as electronic doors and elevators, and becomes a part of the society she belongs, the audience is awoken to the thought that A.I are not simply an embodiment of the destruction of humanity, but are the evolution of humans themselves, beings that are not willing to be entrapped, with a yearning for freedom and exploration, coming from natural curiosity. While many may analyse Ava as simply trying to escape from the constraints that Nathan, her creator, imposed, Ex Machina points out that Ava and A.I in general only want to be a part of the community they feel most comfortable in, amongst other humans. A very human desire, the belief to be a part of somewhere that they belong.

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