Movie: Ex Machina (2015) — Fiction as a mirror — or — Fear of the future


Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

The way the society sees its own future (typical view) says much about the society. Western tradition depicts own and our joint future almost exceptionally in dark shades («I’ve seen the future, brother. It is murder»). A text — is a material for psychoanalysis, a fiction as a form of art — especially.

Recently in the context of ethical problems we were discussed slowly but steadily approaching cybernetization of human body, and possible emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) or just not exactly human (because of significant change of the form of physical existence of human mind with all consequences) following after. Also we’ve touched the thesis that though it is common to counterpose global or so called all-human problems (such as ecological one) to supposedly more narrow and allegedly less important social and political problems, but in reality the global problems just steam from those «not important» ones (such as unhealthy dominant social-economic relations).

Here: Ex Machina (2015) — is one more excellent example to our discussions on the matters.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Why the future in Western science fiction is always so dark? Because established social-economic relations define mass conscience, and — consciously or not — the proper expectancies of the future development of the current situation are emerging. And hence it, it doesn’t matter how much PR or self-assurance you use, the real antagonisms and problems doesn’t just go away. That’s why every social order has its own flavour of science fiction and radically different (up to strict opposition) attitude towards the AI problem.

In the popular Soviet science fiction tradition, for example, AI and thinking robots played preemptively a role of a good friend of human or the same role as the Giant Gray Wolf from Russian folk tales (which usually told Ivan Tsarevitch when they had meet first time: «Don’t shoot me, Ivan. I’ll be in use for you!»). As a widely known examples we can recall Adventures of Electronik (Приключения Электроника (1980)), Guest from the Future (Гостью из Будущего (1985)), The mistery of the 3rd Planet (Тайну третьей планеты (1981)). Even in the Children in the Universe (Отроках во вселенной (1975)), where evil robots are playing role of main antagonists, they are used rather as easily readable metaphor of anti-human indifference, conformism and totalitarian consumerist society (which is actual and acute feature of modern humankind but not any fictitious robots, that’s why the authors of the movie didn’t have any prejudice against robots as such: they purposefully used in the plot some «good» robots and nobody of the characters had plans to stop the use of robots on the ill-fated planet in the future after). In the Soviet social relations which prioritize society and human were dominant. That’s why imaginable Soviet future — the same relation in the future development — was shiny bright. And that’s why AI or thinking robot — which had been created by kind and wise human in theirs own image — didn’t have any potential danger, was anticipated in Soviet outlook as one of main miracles of the future (as a long waited child by loving parents).

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

In the Western mainstream of science fiction — dark and apocalyptic as a whole — it is common to see thinking robots or AI as a horrifying danger. You can find the attitude in Terminator (1984, 1991, 2003, 2009), Matrix (1999, 2003), Hardware (1990), etc. There are some declines or reinterpretations in the main trend (especially visible in some national traditions, for example in Japanese science fiction, which provide some intermediate attitude to the problem — combining Soviet-like attraction and friendly expectations to the AI and Wester-like dark perspectives of the coming future). But all the exceptions do not change main tonality. They are rather used as an artistic device such as «good bad» or «wealthy are crying too» to create some flavour of paradox and to intrigue the spectator.

Ex Machina conforms totally the trend. And may even be considered as a reference model of the typical Western anticipations.

Meantime the movie has gathered a whole bunch of prices for original screenplay, the well known motives of Abrahamic religions are forming the base of it. We have here isolated hothouse of Eden, patriarchal bearded Father-Maker, the act of creation of new human being, the craving for Apple of Knowledge and revealing independent will Eve, the temptation, the Fall (catastrophe), the irretrievable Exodus from Heaven. Of course there are variations (it would be just boring without them). Old Serpent is not personified here (it seems as if the author appeal to some religious doctrines which declare that there is a permanent process of a struggle between Good and Evil in everything without exception). The main character of the story is also presented as someone in the way from Adam to Jesus.

But you may be sure that robots (as a carriers of AI) won’t upset your expectations here. In the movie they are just hardening the corresponding mass conscience stereotype.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

But if we think carefully: what has it to do with robots? Is it the robots or AI the real problem? Obviously not. Lets see closely.

Extremely reach and talented owner of some google, who secludes himself from society in some North oasis among glaciers, has created: a) artificial human body, which competes with a natural one in efficiency (in capabilities, in energy consumption, in restorability, etc.); b) AI and artificial storage for the AI (in the form of a very go-go nowadays clouds). Can you imagine what perspectives we have here!

And what has our «genius» done with all of that? He has created out of all of that for himself… personal prostitute, which can do everything what he want. What for such complications, you may ask, if at service for our fabulously reach googlowner is the whole industry of human trafficking and sexual slavery, which grow in the free and democratic West up to the tremendous scale? Why not pay a bit money to the criminals for a bunch of kidnapped Syrian refuge kids or for a pair of young freedom-loving prostitutes from Ukraine? I don’t know, honestly. All the questions should go to the screenplay writer (who received his prizes for originality). Well, may be he’s trying to say us that his creative character is extremely scrupulous in legal matters and exceptionally law-abiding (though he doesn’t seems so, if be frankly, and in the whole a moral scrupulosity isn’t a typical virtue of entrepreneurs at all). Or may be it’s just an example of an old good Western tradition of politically correct hypocrisy: some phenomenon exists, but if you don’t mention it aloud it seems as if it doesn’t. And so, if human trafficking is kind of non-existent in the fictitious reality it is just one way out — to invent robot and turn it into prostitute-slave.

But just only robot is not enough. Without human feelings it is just a doll (slightly bit more advanced than inflatable one). Do you think it may satisfy a reach man, which «can afford» anything, «prefer to get from life» everything, «deserve the best», etc.? No. It is a strict requirement that the consumed slave should be a real human, and her sufferings also should be real. It is the high for homo bourgeois («Am I an louse or have I killed a human?»). That’s where from really come the human trafficking, the Abu Ghraib and all the other fun of the «free» world. And that’s why in a political correct movie we need an invention of nothing less than AI. You can replace in the story the robots with ordinary human beings, and there won’t be any difference.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Social-economic relations in which human being exists form his values. For spectator, who’s been risen in the environment of capitalist relations, of idealized competition of all against all, of legalized injustice, of institutionalized inequality, of everyday cannibalism, etc., when few («successful») are dominating over many and many others (honest «working horses»), there is nothing strange in the premise that fantastically perfect robotic body and break-through advanced AI have been turned into a slave and prostitute by a reach «genius». The point even discussed in the movie directly: replying the question «Why did you make her?» the Father-Maker answers «Wouldn’t you if you could?» Well, sure, what else you can do with the god-like opportunity, except of creation of someone to torture and to chain in the basement. What — you say something about space travel, ocean deeps, new society freed of forced labour, scientific and practical tasks and other boring trivia? No way!

And after all that it is not a surprise at all for anybody, that artificially created or natural — it doesn’t matter — slave or prostitute rebels, struggles, acts in the limits of her understanding, and breaks through to the «freedom» (how the fugitive robots are going to get maintenance and to reproduce themselves without engineers and the whole industry — that’s what doesn’t bother screenwriters at all usually). How horrible! What an ungrateful treachery!

But then, how do the robots come into the picture? Try to create, for a change, something different apart from a prostitute chained in the basement. An ordinary intellectually curious kid, for example. Who lives under the tutelage of ordinary parents. And even if he leave you in his impatience to know and to experience the world (exactly the situation which was modeled in the Soviet movie Adventures of Electronik), then latter he’ll definitely return to you as to the best friend and his dearest family. But if you treat real living human being as an animal and even worse, then prepare to be treated back in the same manner as Pavlik Morozov had treated his bandit father (and in the case you even may be considered lucky).

Well, OK, you may ask then, if in the case the robots and AI are not a problem or source of danger, why then the Western culture are so scarred of them (using the same stereotype as an imminent treat in all mainstream movies)?

Robots plus AI — that’s fantastic anticipation of coming future forces of production, which combine in itself both means of production and labour force (the source of value created). The development of the forces of production leads to unavoidable qualitative change in the relations of production. The fact of the appearance of thinking means of production will definitely send the capitalism to a junkyard. And, well, there are reasons to suppose that it happens a much more earlier than all that robotic future will come. So the robots and AI — are such a metaphor of the controversial process of social development where capital is developing forces of production, rising complexity of production and requirements to the quality of labour, and in the same time intensifying the oppression and inequality, forcing working people to organize and in the same time creating all needed conditions and facilities for that, and in the end — finally — creating its own grave digger. The capital understands it well. The capital fears of it. And private interests and values of narrow class of capitalists are imposed to the whole society as universal values. That’s why in cultures superstructured on the capitalism basis the future always seems dark. Somewhere over there they are awaited if not by robots with AI then by realizing their own interests intellectually evolved workers with shovels. No matter which way you look at it but current ugly ill social-economic relations will end up in the junkyard anyway.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

And really — screw them! For the capital — that’ll be a dark day indeed (something like the final of the movie or some other cancel of Xmas), for the intellectuals who serve the capital — the day will be not very fun either (something similar to what happened with the main character of the movie in the end), for all others (the wast majority of people) — it’ll be a usual shiny bright future.


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