Ex Machina is a thriller about artificial intelligence.IN his novels The Beach and The Tesseract, in his screenplays Sunshine and 28 Days Later, and even in his adaptations of other people’s work, like Never Let Me Go and Dredd, Alex Garland wrestles with similarly knotty themes: the corruption of utopian ideals, the intersection where science and human behaviour collide, the possibility that technology can go wrong.
In his directing debut, the riveting sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, Garland bundles those concepts to explore how consciousness and free will factor into the equation.
A billionaire tech titan has developed a sentient machine and invites one of his brainy programmers to spend a week testing her – her name is Ava – to see whether she represents true artificial intelligence, a thinking, feeling entity.
Oscar Isaac stars as the search-engine-era Dr Frankenstein, Domhnall Gleeson is the young techie, and Alicia Vikander, part Swedish actress, part prosthetics, part visual effects, is the robot creature.
What does Garland see happening in the future?
Is the sort of independent-thinking, emotionally attuned machine Vikander represents in his movie going to happen in the real world?
‘‘It’s impossible to know. It’s got a lot of parallels with the cure for cancer, in as much as there may be breakthroughs in AI and then what those breakthroughs do is they demonstrate how hard the job is – and the goalposts shift away from where they were perceived to be previously,’’ he said.
‘‘That said, do I think there will be AIs one day that are strong AIs and that have sentience? If I had to bet, I’d bet yes, just in the way that I would bet that there will be a cure for cancer despite all the complexities of cancer.
‘‘But one of the pleasures of working on this film is that I’ve got to meet people who are involved at a very high level of current AI research, and you pretty much get the same message from all of them, which is that it will happen, but it’s not about to happen.’’