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Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. (Albert Camus)
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    Falling in love with AVA – Ex-Machina, the great challenge ahead of us.
    Project: Polytopia
    "The essential problem of man in a computerized age remains the same as it has always been. That problem is not solely how to be more productive, more comfortable, more content, but how to be more sensitive, more sensible, more proportionate, more alive. The computer makes possible a phenomenal leap in human proficiency; it demolishes the fences around the practical and even theoretical intelligence. But the question persists and indeed grows whether the computer makes it easier or harder for human beings to know who they really are, to identify their real problems, to respond more fully to beauty, to place adequate value on life, and to make their world safer than it now is."

    The Poet and the Computer
    By Norman Cousins

    I fell in love with AVA, that happened a few days ago after I watched Ex-Machina.

    From 1927 until 1982 I have loved Maria (from Fritz Lang Metropolis)

    From 1982 until 2015 I have loved Rachael (from Ridley Scott Blade Runner)

    and now it is AVA turn, from the just released Ex-Machina.
    (And since I finished with my love life it is time to dwell on Ex-Machina.)

    This is not your regular vanilla science fiction flick, there is something deep and profound in Ex-Machina, its thrill and frissons are there because of its extraordinary reflectiveness.
    There are of course many CGI effects that are tantalizing in their realness, and the visuals are seriously orgasmic and stimulating, but that is not what the movie is about, this is not a dystopian end of the world AI movie.
    Au contraire, if I was to describe the movie (and I am) I would call it a future docudrama.
    In fact to my eyes, Ex-Machina is impressive precisely because its main emphasis is on questions that belong to existential philosophy.
    From unfathomable questions of ‘ what is consciousness’? to questions of epistemology on the nature of knowledge and brushing the psychology of man machine interactions, reflectivity, intentionality, sexuality, volition and much more.
    Ex-machina is an extraordinary tiny and intimate film, and to my mind probably the best in this genre. Compared to ‘HER’ (another interesting movie on the subject of AI and robotics) I think Ex-Machina represents a step ahead in the underlying discourse of our own humanity being challenged in its most profound issues of beingness.
    Ex-Machina is unhurried, deliberately demanding of the viewer an intense reflection while following the amazing performance of AVA (the acting of Alicia Vikander is exquisite) .
    AVA, the beautiful android in Ex Machina, is not a mimicry machine, ‘she’(it?) is not simply an AI that mimics human equivalent intelligence (Hei), she is an enticing, glamorous and fascinating exemplar of an other. And though she is the epitome depiction of a ‘femme fatale’ sexbot, and therefore charms and ensnares her lovers, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations, her textual conversations are not conceptually enlightening, she is though far from being a cliché, she is a Brancusi sculpture come alive. (Not surprisingly the actual makers of AVA looked at lots of Brancusi sculptures when exploring different forms of organic and sensible creations- see- More human than human: the making of Ex Machina’s incredible robot )

    I see Ava as an ‘Other than human’ prototype, Ava is a depiction of what is known as a replicant, but unlike Rachael in Ridley Scott Blade runner, Ava shows her innards (we see part of her robotic body continuously) a fact which to my mind makes all the difference in the world.
    By showing the viewers a realistic if very advanced robotic being meshed with obviously natural human traits, director Garland continuously shifts our focus, into a perceptual carousel if you like.

    This in itself is a teaser to our perceptual habits, and in this sense does not allow us to settle either on the human or on the android but demands a continuous re-adjustment of the concept (be it the human machine or the machine human).

    And then comes the full impact of her character in which just like humans Ava is selectively empathic.
    To my mind the most interesting feature of Ava is this, that she is able to discriminate on an emotional level.
    The reason I think that is the most advanced feature of Ava is because it defeats in one go the most important aspect of all dystopian futuristic depictions of robots uprising , that they see us (humans) all as the same hindrance.
    Ava has the emotional response and reflectivity of a human and for all practical purposes is in fact a humanoid AI.
    She is immediately accepted on first sight, by Caleb (invited to apparently test her Turing test fitness- no spoilers) and us the viewers are instantly taken by her hybrid beauty in tech, her body being semi transparent and obviously non human.
    With Ava I believe we have in front of us a perfect study case of how our perceptions are changing.

    Human beings carry an evolutionary imperative of survivability and reproduction that machines presently do not, however, as computing powers evolve and our desire to embed artificial lives, artificial intelligence and eventually artificial consciousness, increases, these evolutionary imperatives are inevitable.
    Ava is a perfect example of an analog machine, operating in an environment that is fully controlled, until of course (due to cinematic necessities) she desires to escape her prison, just like any human mind will.

    And now of course comes the hard question Ava asks Caleb

    Ava: “do you think I might be switched off?”
    Caleb:” its not up to me!”
    Ava: “ why is it up to anyone?”

    This innocent question of Ava to Caleb presents us in one shot with the very foundation of our own ethics and morality.
    For, at what point do we cease playing god and allow our creations the autonomy of existence to which we are not masters anymore?
    Obviously no one has a problem switching off their (by now legendary) toasters but switching off a conscious being?
    That is a totally different story and to my mind that is really the theme of Alex Garland Movie.

    Ava is obviously conscious, certainly loveable, empathic, sensual, enticing and a fascinating.. what?
    A conscious aware being, a form of life we recognize as such because it is similar to us?
    We tend to speak of the evolution of intelligence in terms of ‘ Human equivalent AI’ or greater than human equivalent AI, what is generally termed , super intelligence, but aren’t we by using this very terminology, assigning value and meaning to these forms of life?
    And when we do so, as indeed logic requires, we necessarily tap into our very own value system in which life (or at least human equivalent life) is to a large extent sacred.
    What do we do then?
    The factuality of AI is upon us, with machines increasingly becoming ‘human like’ and surpassing human abilities in many fields, historically considered ‘human only’, sooner or later we will face an Ava, a conscious aware life form that is other than us.
    What do we do then?
    The way I see it, that is the great challenge ahead of us.

    To a large extent we are as a species still on the speculation stage concerning the so called nature of sentience, sapience, intelligence and conscious awareness. And though philosophers and scientist alike have ruminated about these issues for ages we are still in our infancy when trying to disentangle the Gordian knot of what we are.
    And yet we are very proficient in creating life forms, other than us, bio mechanical or on whatever substrate these happen to be, that for all practical purposes mimic our very own existential angst, as is portrayed by Ava in Ex-Machina.
    Artificial intelligence in this sense is probably the only field of human exploration that might yield some answers as concerns our very own nature.
    The difference however is that in the case of AI, we are writing the narrative right now and in a very real sense we are the poets of the electronic brains poems.

    I leave you to ponder these questions, after watching this most recommended movie. I have no doubt that Ava will make you fall in love with her, for she is ‘us’ but other.
    For my part I believe in the rise of artificial consciousness, whether in the next 20 ,or 100 years is not the point, the point is that it is changing us, right here and right now.
    Our awareness to this change of perception and worldviews is what we should be focused on, for by understanding that which we are creating, we might finally make a dent in the great mystery that is us.
    For we are all by virtue of our inquisitiveness and empathy, poets.

    “Poets remind men of their uniqueness. It is not necessary to possess the ultimate definition of this uniqueness. Even to speculate on it is a gain.”

    The Poet and the Computer
    By Norman Cousins

    Sun, May 24, 2015  Permanent link
    Categories: AI,Ex-Machina,Ava,artificial consciousness,
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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    shandora     Sun, May 24, 2015  Permanent link
    Thank you Wildcat for a fascinating and thought provoking post. It so happen that I watched Ex-Machina last night and was taken by it on many levels. I found the cinematic of it be just brilliant: every scene stirs the viewer's interest right into a hall of mirrors of sorts, full of existential reflections... :-)
    To start with, how inescapable is the bias ( put so aptly in the bible, from all places ) of "Creating [artificial] man in his own image". This implies (1) that the benchmark for conciousness is always how human-like it is and (2) less strongly ( but still with noticeable effects ), that the creator is gender-biased and male. It is granted that today we generally lack the means to imagine conciousness in more abstract or alternative fashions ( We are, after all, the most advanced phenomena we know ) but let us not forget that this is not a theoretical condition but rather a pragmatic one. At a certain point in the movie (00:48 to be exact) Caleb asks Nathan why AVA cannot be implemented as a "grey box". Why did he give it a human form, sexuality, empathy etc. ? Nathan's answer is that "Conciousness is about interaction" - which I find to be an interesting proposition and one that requires further investigation. And this brings me to another matter: the Turing test, which obviously is also all about interaction. Quite arrogant and naive is the assumption that an AI which is human equivalent ( or more ) would just sit there and accept the terms of the test as well as the eminence of the tester. Any self-respecting AI would find this proposition ludicrous, or as in AVA's case plainly rebel against it ( I would :-) )
    Thinking about AVA reminded me also of another cinematic AI character : TARS - from the movie Interstellar (  )
    TARS looks nothing like AVA. He is mostly a plain rectangular piece of metal... and I found it startling how different was the range of emotions I experienced when observing TARS,
    in comparison to AVA... just because of the different manners in which they were physically implemented ( obviously they are very different creatures once you get to know them,
    but that's beside the point ) I believe that amongst its varied applications, real AI ( such as AVA ) is possibly the next major apparatus through which we, as a specie, could get
    to self-know a bit more...
    nedzen     Sun, Jun 14, 2015  Permanent link
    I liked this film; I found it to be quite ambitious aesthetically: AVA looks awesome, and as Wildcat said, it shakes our conception of inanimate intelligent creature and femme fatale. She is a dangerous breed of bad bitch capable of charming only with her mere looks. Her angelic face of Alicia Vikander and the designed body elevated to transcendental artistic heights, add up exponentially. Caleb is charmed on the spot and he opens up for her to mess up his mind. Of course he had no idea what was going on, she acted tactically in each session advancing one step further to her escape. It’s crazy, but she used empathy to basically parasitise his mind. She hacked his human identity up to the point where he didn’t know what he was any more. Poor Caleb. While I was watching what’s happening to him I remembered about a different movie i saw a while ago, Persona by Ingmar Bergman. Nathan was more skilled in psycho games and human biases so he knew how to protect but still not cautious enough. I could not understand why he was keeping Kyoko free, what an imprudence.

    This movie should made me think of what are my human biases and how I can overcome them. That alone would make me a better Caleb in everyday life. When it was done, I felt very motivated to overcome my condition and stop complaining.
    starwalker     Sun, Jun 14, 2015  Permanent link
    Wildcat thank you for a great recommendation and an inspiring post!
    Many are indeed the reflections stirred by the movie. The one I would like to add here concerns the masterful cohering of a significant change in perspective, I think Ava, the way it (or she..? and indeed why not he..) looks, speaks, behaves, marks a new and different understanding of AI, compared to what used to be the direction of “thinking machines”. In a way the realization has landed and grounded that we cannot precisely ‘design’ intelligence, but it is more about providing the circumstances for ‘intelligent’ emergence, if at all.
    Why writing this I have in mind for example the current report of a recent human versus machine tete a tete, played at poker (no-limit texas hold-em) where poker provides an interesting, non-standard testing ground for AI performance given it demands decision making on the basis of incomplete information, including as well human emotion, (Claudico) the most interesting piece of information for me was reading that actually the team of scientists who designed the impressive piece of AI told that because claudico ‘taught itself to play’ (over oceans of played games data) they know it does have a winning strategy but they do not really know which.. the human pros players eventually this year won, mind you by a fairly small margin..
    The mode in which ava emerges from an endless set of human data (so easily, arrogantly and carelessly provided to it), through embodiment, interaction and repeated iteration does not allow direct peering into its strategies, capabilities, final enhancements and emotional states. We are left to interact with it through the thick glass of the unknown, to test it and probe it (and be probed back in a highly more professional if not alien way), while assuming its similarity (after all it does think like us, or so it seems while we are enchanted by its magic performance..)
    Yet emergence is messy, it entails much less control than our lab coat scientist icon would like, it strings somehow to the myth of the golem, which seems to be evolving from dumb to superhuman along the centuries.. :) and inevitably does leave a few bodies in the closet.
    By messy I mean that with the entrance of emergence in the picture, here goes our so well loved AI full of aplomb and rational detachment (of course male - I actually loved TARS…:)), the one fantastic intelligence that by remaining untouched by all our humane messy affairs will save us from ourselves, or at least transcend human nonsense. Emergence demands forces and intensities, such as embodiment, gender, desire, in short a thirst for survival… and power, heavy duty power. So in a way the sense of control that the human used to get from the idea of ‘designing’ intelligence (embedding amazing laws of transcendence into it), in ex-machina transforms into the power of containing and surveying, of using and abusing (our data and our creations), of triggering and aborting, and the game oscillates between ‘pet’ (can be left out of the cage) and ‘predator’ (beware unpredictable – red alarm)…or in alternative we can transform it into the unquestioning love for our creation, and here of course culture dictates a she for the magic to work properly.. In my eyes ava is a serious attempt at embodying the discussion through the forces of the cultural, economical, political and aesthetic which inevitably influence circumstances, and a bravo for that, the movie provides quite a thoughtful ground. With ava, weather to be controlled, saved or loved… we are kind of growing a child, using an ‘imitation game’ as control parameter, providing it with uncontrolled power and strong drives, should we expect…a better version of ourselves.. ?
    gamma     Sat, Jan 2, 2016  Permanent link
    I came to the Chair to get laid with the robot and instead, I got strangled. Oh, and, spoiler alert. Terrible.