The Turing test features prominently in Alex Garland’s new film Ex Machina, but this is no meditation on computer science. It’s not even, ultimately, about artificial intelligence. The movie instead explores humans: the Frankenstein-like hubris involved in creating artificial beings; the power relationships between employee and boss, parent and child, tester and testee; the moral responsibility of creation.
The movie follows a young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), chosen to spend a week in the remote boreal home and lab of his billionaire boss Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive genius who wrote the code for a Google-like search engine when he was a teen. Nathan tasks Caleb with interviewing Nathan’s A.I. creation, Ava (Alicia Vikander), to see if the robotic femme fatale has achieved the ability to think for herself, or, some would say, consciousness. Instead of evaluating Ava, Caleb falls for her and begins to question himself.
For now, A.I. might be found mostly in self-driving cars and smartphone apps. But in this thoughtful sci-fi thriller, artificial intelligence takes the form of human fantasy and fear.