Ex Machina -More Human Than Us?

Caleb, Ava, Nathan

Is digital technology making humans become more machine-like as it makes machines become more human-like?

Nathan (right), creator of Ava (center), challenges AI test programmer, Caleb (left) in the movie Ex Machina. Nathan ironically argues with machine-like certainty that “being human” means being able to take actions that are not deliberate, not random, but somewhere in between –just like the machine, Ava, that he created. Check out this insightful segment of the Oscar-nominated movie script below.  

I believe Ex Machina is destined to become a classic that was not widely seen in 2015 (world wide revenues of only $40 million) even though the script and special effects received Oscar nominations.



(From page 61 of movie script written and  directed by Alex Garland)



I programmed her to be heterosexual.  Just like you were programmed to be heterosexual.


Nobody programmed me to be straight.


But you are attracted to her. (i.e., the AI, Ava)


This is childish.


No, this is adult.  And by the way, you decided to be straight?  Please.  Of course you were programmed.  By nature or nurture, or both.

NATHAN stands.


To be honest, Caleb, you’re kind of annoying me now.  This is your instinct talking, not your intellect.

CALEB opens his mouth to reply, but NATHAN shuts him down, gesturing at the Pollock drip paintings.


Look over here.  You know this guy, right?




Pollock.  The drip painter.  He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted.  Not deliberate, not random.  Someplace in between.  They called it automatic art.

NATHAN gazes at the canvas.


Let’s make this like Star Trek, okay?  Engage intellect.


… What?


I’m Kirk.  Your head is the warp drive.  ‘Engage intellect’.  What if Pollock had reversed the challenge?  Instead of trying to make art without thinking, he said: I can’t paint anything unless I know exactly why I’m doing it.  What would have happened?

CALEB thinks.


He’d never have made a single mark.

NATHAN clicks his fingers.


See?  There’s my guy.  There’s my buddy, who actually thinks before he opens his mouth.  He’d never have made a single mark.  The challenge is not to act automatically.  It’s to find an action that is not automatic.  From talking, to breathing, to painting.

NATHAN glances back at CALEB.


To fucking.  Even falling in love.

A beat.

Then NATHAN smiles.


Hey.  You think it’s an original?


… I don’t know.


Funny story.  Neither do I.  I bought the painting for eighty nine million dollars.  Then I made a copy, with canvas from Pollock’s estate, and each drip replicated to the micron.  When my team delivered the copy, I had them randomly rearranged.  Then I burned one.  And I have no fucking idea if the painting on my wall is the original or the fake.

NATHAN kills his beer.


In fact, I hope it’s the fake.  It has all the aesthetic qualities of the original, and it’s more intellectually sound.

A beat.


For the record, Ava is not acting as if she likes you.  And her flirting isn’t an algorithm to fake you out.  You’re the first man she’s ever seen who isn’t me.  And I’m like her dad, right?  So can you blame her for getting a crush on you?




2 thoughts on “Ex Machina -More Human Than Us?

  1. Bob,

    Thanks for your post. Very interesting. I haven’t seen the movie but look forward to seeing it soon. You’ve triggered and focused my interest.

    I went to my first AI meeting in DoD with Dr. Beyster and Dr. Binninger in the early 1970’s. Now 45 years or so later, it seems the amount of progress is less than was expected then-meanwhile we’ve learned something about the degree of complexity involved.

    Your comment that being human means being able to take actions between random and deliberate struck a familiar chord. This summer, I asked my talented, young second cousin, Kent what he was thinking or imagining as he painted large, complex 8 X 10 foot paintings like the one attached. He said I just start and it comes to me as I paint. Not random, not deliberate.


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