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Sex, Lies & A.I.: Inside the Sci-Fi Thriller ‘Ex Machina’

This futuristic film from ’28 Days Later’ screenwriter Alex Garland will leave you feeling for the robots

Alicia-Vikander

Alicia-Vikander in 'Ex Machina.'

A24 Filmes

Star Oscar Isaac has offered the most succinct summary of the relentlessly clever new sci-fi film Ex Machina, out April 10th: “I’m building fuckbots!” But no one will confuse this tense drama with Weird Science Ex Machina, which marks the directorial debut of 28 Days Later writer Alex Garland, is an unnerving meditation on the ethics of artificial intelligence, the ever-growing power of Silicon Valley (Isaac plays the reclusive founder of a search-engine company), the nature of human desire and more. “People have a sense they’ve given up more than they knew to big tech companies, that they’ve given their humanity,” says Garland, noting the sudden Hollywood prevalence of A.I. plots and tech villains. “It bothers them.”

There are only four main characters in the film, and two of them are robots: Swedish actress Alicia Vikander’s imprisoned, eerily alluring Ava is the focus. “They’re not playing robots,” says Garland. “They’re being humans, but they are doing it more perfectly than we do it.” The inspiration for Ex Machina‘s explorations of cybernetic carnal knowledge sprung partially from conversations the 45-year-old filmmaker had with a neuroscience-obsessed friend, who claimed that artificially intelligent beings “would never have any emotional life. They wouldn’t know they were A.I.’s in the way that we know we’re people. But really, the initial spark goes back to when I was a kid and the first home computers started arriving. You could input a program where you said hello to the computer, and it said ‘Hello’ back to you. There was a weird sense that the machine was actually alive.”

But Garland doesn’t take alarmist anti-A.I. statements from people like Stephen Hawking seriously: Self-aware machinery, he says, “is not around the corner.” And, in any case, his sympathies are with the (theoretical) robots. “If you said to a machine, ‘I’m gonna switch you off,’ and the machine says, ‘I don’t want to be switched off,’ at exactly that moment, there’s an ethical problem.”

In This Article: Oscar Isaac

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