Alexander Medawar "Alex" Garland is an English novelist, screenwriter, film producer and director.
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We're here to discuss the implications of the film EX MACHINA currently in theatres and answer any questions you may have.
Well, we're wrapping up now. We'd like to say thanks everyone for sending in your questions, and sorry for those we didn't get to!
Hey guys, thanks for coming over for this AMA!
Most movies tend to portray AI as having an inherent survival instinct, a need to keep existing for some purpose other than to fulfill its primary function. Is this realistic in the real study of artificial intelligence? Could an AI develop it’s own survival instinct? Survival seems to be an innately living trait, an evolutionary result leading living organisms to keep progressing and perfecting. How does this translate to AI and machines? Is this merely a fictional plot device?
I'd say a strong AI may or may not have a survival instinct. That is to say, the true nature of strong AIs is unknown, because they don't exist, and may never exist. That said, other sentient creatures - humans and animals - display survival instincts, so I don't see why one would preclude the possibility that a sentient machine might be the same.
Alex, loved Ex Machina. Quick question: I've wondered about the battery issue with Ava. Is that something you gave any thought to? Because one can view the ending in very different ways, depending on whether she has a long-lasting battery or one that would crap out in a few days.
Thank you. Re: batteries, I had some idea that she used induction plates to charge (there are a few dotted around her room, which she presses her hand to) and that in the future of the film, induction plates were more powerful and readily available than they are now...
My friend and I saw your movie and we really liked it.
His question is: Did Nathan simply forget programming empathy into Ava? (because she is egoistic, doesnt care if caleb is ok...) Or did she behave like that because she has been developed and programmed as an "adult" or at least with the intelligence of an adult (compared to the mind of a child) and wanted to be free (no matter what). Shouldnt he better let her "age" ( and grow up like a human baby does) because thats actually defines us (humans). We develop. We dont simply start as grown ups.
Ava has empathy! It's just not directed at the men. It's directed at the other machines (and they direct it back at her). In other words her empathy is selective, which for me is a very human trait...
In terms of her education, her capacity for learning I think would be very different to ours, and could have certain kinds of information effectively preinstalled.
Hey Alex! Congrats on the success of the movie! How was the transition from writing to directing? What did you learn from some of the great directors you worked with? Sunshine is one of the best movies ever made, hope you keep it up!
Transition from writing to directing was small, from my point of view. I was working with a large team of people I'd worked with many times. The main thing I learned from previous productions was to have faith in the collaboration and your collaborators. Don't get in their way.
How strong was Ava? I understood she was weaker than Nathan, but strong enough to stab. And more generally: how strong could and should robots be?
We figured Ava had a similar level of strength and weight as her human equivalent.
I'm not sure robot's 'should' have any particular level of strength. As strong as they need to be for what they need to do, I guess.
Do you think that any form of strong AI would not be comfortable with isolation?
Not necessarily. It would depend what form and nature the strong AI had. I think one could imagine a strong AI that needed or wanted social interaction, and another that was content with (or preferred) isolation. But again, seeing as we don't yet have strong AIs, and don't really know what they would be like, it's all speculation...
Did you ever toy with alternative endings?
I feel that the so called alternative ending is not alternative, because the same point is made elsewhere in the film, but in a more subtle way. Specifically, when we see Ava and Kyoko communicate with each other, and the camera is incredibly close to them, but we can't understand what they're saying...
Alex, how's the work on Annihilation coming along? Was it the artificial intelligence that drew you to that particular trilogy?
Well, I'm happy with the script, more or less. Don't have a shooting script, but it's getting there. Hope it works out!
It was the premise, the characters, and the location that drew me to the novel. And the fact that I just loved reading ti.
Hi Alex, Adam, and Murray! After much anticipation, I finally got to see 'Ex Machina' and I loved it! I do a lot of thinking about AI and the future of mankind, so this movie and AMA really excite me! A few questions:
(I should also mention for readers that my questions contain SPOILERS for 'Ex Machina')
The end of 'Ex Machina' is particularly chilling to me because I think it really captures a more realistic fear we should have regarding AI: not that they'll actively try to kill humanity, à la 'Terminator', but that they'll just be completely indifferent to us, much like we are to ants as we walk on a sidewalk. Obviously this makes for good storytelling, but do you all believe that this should be a major concern? Or is it perhaps more likely that such a fully intelligent being without emotion would be equally as apathetic to its own existence (not having a primal survival instinct) and therefore be more inclined to either help humanity or just do nothing at all?
I'm sure there's no plan for this, but if there were to be an 'Ex Machina' sequel, where do you think it should go? Several of the recent films about AI have focused on AIs struggling for equal treatment in larger human society ('Chappie' and 'Automata' come to mind). Is this an aspect you think would be an interesting and important issue to cover with Ava, or has it kind of been done to death? Would Ava try to create more like her, or would she be content spending forever just "people watching"?
Hopefully most are familiar with the phrase "deus ex machina" which this film derived its ~~plot~~ title from, so what does the title of the film specifically mean to each of you?
'Sunshine' is one of my all-time favorite films, having an amazing balance of plot, visuals, and an amazing soundtrack. How much of the amazing cinematics were there when you visualized and wrote it, versus what Danny came up with?
Amazingly detailed question. Really glad you liked the film.
- To me, it's not that a strong AI would necessarily be indifferent to us, more just that they would be different.
- No sequel planned. But I see Ava making her way in the world just fine, and yes, eventually there being more like her.
- It's using the terms explicitly, as in God out of the machine. But just losing the God part, because I don't see God playing a part in this story...
- Like all films I've ever worked on, Sunshine was a collaboration between a large group of people. Some of the visuals were in the script, some from Danny, some from the DP, and the production designer, and VFX supervisor, and so on...
Alex - I own a few dozen movies, 28 days & Sunshine were already there, and I pre-ordered Ex Machina after seeing it in theaters (I'm a multiple-watcher). Thanks for many hour of thoughtful enjoyment!
Few of questions in order of my curiosity:
Was your thinking about the Ex Machina plot influenced by the AI Boxing thought experiment? http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/AI_boxing (it might have been indirectly via Murray Shanahan - Murray?)
More observation that a question, but curious about your reaction: as people are now worried about AI and working on ways to ensure postive outcomes (I volunteer for futureoflife.org, to which Elon gave a sizable sum) there is a distinct group of people that think that AI wipeout is inevitable and humans deserve to go away (so there is no reason to fight it). They really remind me of Pinbacker. (I think you astutely pointed out that there might be elements of megalomania in that thinking - "Last man alone with God" etc)
I'd love to see you touch other sci-fi themes, and in a no-compromise way Ex Machina was done. Maybe human enhancement? Limitless was fun but not very deep. Ted Chiang's story https://web.archive.org/web/20070209061811/http://
Lastly, any recommendations for book that seriously affected your outlook?
I don't know the boxing thought experiment off the top of my head, I ashamed to admit. But I'll check it out.
Definitely don't think humans deserve to be eradicated! But also think that our long term future is eradication, or dying in this solar system at any rate, just because of the nature of energy, and the distances involved between stars, etc. I think it possible that one day, AIs will be what survive of us.
As for a book that affected my outlook, I'll say Murray's book on cognition and embodiment!
Hi Alex, thank you for Ex Machina – a wonderful film. Assuming people here have seen it (SPOILER ALERT) – can you talk about the consequences of Ava and Kyoko's act to "turn" Nathan off? Is Ava advanced enough to continue Nathan's work and if she isn't, does she realize she is arresting AI development?
IMO Ava would ultimately be better at continuing Nathan's work than he is...
Hi, Alex. I really liked your movie Ex Machina. I saw it yesterday in a cinema. It was entertaining and interesting enough. Is the plot that we can see in the movie the same, unchanged, that you had in your mind before you put it on paper or was it a struggle to come up with this unpredictably evolving plot? Were there more versions of the screenplay?
The script went through some changes in development, but was essentially always the same story.
Has any of you played System Shock? If so what's your academic/personal opinion on it?
LOVE SYSTEM SHOCK.
Hey Alex, Adam, and Murray, I just saw Ex Machina last night and have to say its solidified itself as my favourite film of any genre. My question is mainly for what were some of your biggest inspirations in making the film? Also, what was the biggest challenge in producing the film itself?
Thank you. For me, frankly, the biggest inspirations were the writing of people like Murray. Scientists, in other words. The people who are pushing forwards the boundaries of what we are, and what we know about what we are.
Hey, Mr Garland! I was curious if you could see the story with Ava, released into the wild, might make a good sequel in your mind? The ending implies that Ava is something of a loose cannon. Is she out for blood for those at Bluebook? I know there's a lot of skepticism with sequels these days but personally I thought it could have cool implications. What do you think?
Don't want to do a sequel. But she isn't out for revenge. She's out for her own future.
Loved the movie. Was there a particular film, book, article, experience, etc., that inspired the idea for this film?
The original trigger for the film was a argument with an old friend of mine about a philosophical concept called qualia, which he liked, and I didn't. If you're interested, wikipedia is actually a good place to start!
Hi, Alex! I created a Reddit account just because of this AMA - wanted to tell you that Ex Machina is absolutely fantastic, extremely smart. What kind of research did you do before writing the movie? Ex Machina actually reminded me of Frankenstein in that a lot of the scientific/technological details were kept vague - did the novel influence you? Finally - SPOILERS - why did you include the scene after Ava locks Caleb in the basement and enters the "real world"? I get that it was a callback to the earlier scene with Ava wanting to go to a highway, but it seems like ending it with Caleb trapped might have been more effective. Thanks so much!
My research began as conversation, but became reading. Anything I could get my hands on relating to AI and consciousness, subject to the limits of my ability to follow the arguments, because some of this stuff is pretty heavy... But check out Murray's book, if you're interested. I thought it was amazing.
Included that final scene because the movie isn't actually Caleb's story, it's Ava's story.
Loved the film and have seen it twice. One thing I don't see enough praise for is Oscar Isaac's performance. On a pure 'watchability' standard his work is first-rate (I'd say transcendent). The story is so compact and streamlined it makes me wonder.. how difficult is it to get an actor to deliver such a unique, nuanced and seemingly 'free' performance within the context of such a well constructed narrative?
I didn't get Oscar to do it, to be honest. He did it himself. So from my point of view, pretty easy work. Sit back and let him get on with it...
Oh god. Excellent movie!
Whoever did the casting did an excellent job! And everyone else who played a role in making it happen.
Question @ Alex: do you personally believe the Turing test will be passed? Also, what other film ideas do you have up your sleeve? What do you think of Blade Runner?
@Adam and Murray: To what extent would you consider humans "machines" ourselves given that there are electrical pulses that course through our brains/heart and without them, we essentially would be non-functional?
Yes, I think that test will get passed. But it won't necessarily mean that the machine is sentient. It will just mean that the test got passed...
Has Ava realized at the end that she destroyed her only repairman?
She's pretty handy. She can figure out how to fix herself...
Hi Alex, Adam and Murray - thanks for the AMA. I havent seen Ex Machina yet (and unfortunately wont for some time - South Africa can be quite slow on the uptake) but Im really looking forward to it.
I wanted to ask, was there anything that the three of you had really opposing views on in the film? Like Alex wanting to go one way, and Adam and Murray jumping in and going "uh, no, thats really not going to happen?" or vice versa?
Funniest experience on set?
The power of disco.
Thank you for doing this AMA!
Ava's one of the more fascinating android characters I've ever seen. It seemed like Alicia Vikander really made the character her own. Can you talk about what the preparation was like for her character? Specifically, how did the way she came out in the film surprise you or differ from your initial vision of the character?
Alicia arrived with an incredibly thought-through approach to Ava. She elevated the character hugely in her performance, which to me was literally perfect. So it differed from my initial vision because it was better!
Well first, thanks everyone for doing this ama. I haven't been able to stop talking about Ex Machina ever since I saw it 2 weeks ago. Tonight I'm planning to see it for the second time. Anywho my question is for Alex. Since seeing the movie I've been watching a ton of interviews with you as I personally am interested in film. Each interviewer is always eager to ask why this film felt right to direct, and every time you respond with that their is no particular reason, as everyone on a film set is equally important. So my questions is basically how do you maintain focus and control if you seemingly have a less director focused film set. Again thanks so much for doing another ama.
P.S.- In one interview I watched, Oscar Issac said that the dance scene was originally twice as long. Considering that the dancing scene is one of the greatest scenes in any movie (in my humble opinion), any chance of getting an extended cut on like a DVD release?
Longer dance may well be on the DVD...
Re: the focus on the set, I think it's just that I was working with amazing collaborators. We were making the same movie, and riffing off each other. Everyone making everyone else better.
Have you played Infinite?
Yeah, but didn't finish it. Final boss fight just pissed me off.