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The plot line dictates, culturally and historically, a dominant narrative told many times in film and media. I wish it were different. With the myriad of racial, cultural, and social stories flooding the media, visibility of API bodies is still so very far behind in the mainstream culture even when it is inserted into film as an aside.

From two teenage boys creating a women in the 1980s film Weird Science to a robotics scientist creating a Voice Input Child Identicant (VICI) in cult classic sitcom Small Wonder, the impact of robotics and artificial intelligence on the human condition isn’t anything new. The profound interest in artificial intelligence has gained popularity with surrealist images of Google’s AI perceiving images in nature to self-driving cars. The rapid development in the realms of science enhance existing technologies to make our lives convenient. But the dominant narratives persist in popular culture as seen in the Alex Garland’s directorial film debut in Ex Machina. Since the release of the film, critics laud the triumph of soft spoken and seemingly delicate feminine robot Ava. As she speaks to Turing tester, Caleb, a programmer for Bluebook (Google-esque technology company), we realize she is well aware of the surroundings and has even developed qualities of human behavior that mimic her ability to think of ways to escape her captor-maker.

However, the film seemed to backfire as an interpretation of the battle between the sexes. Nathan, maker of Ava, created a female AI based on Caleb’s pornographic preferences, which reminds us that Nathan himself knew to use one of his own employees as a ploy in confirming his abilities and deftness in using programming and coding to materialize his fantasies and desires. The creation of Ava is also a way for Nathan to assert his control over Caleb.

Yet the quiet maid, Kyoko, appears consistently throughout the movie is both visible and invisible. The moments of consciousness we might grasp onto that point us to some type of personhood are: 1) dancing with Nathan, 2) Nathan initiating sex with Kyoko, and 3) her inevitable killing of Nathan (she stabs him from behind). The reason for Garland selecting a British-Japanese women to play the part isn’t a surprise nor is it too far fetched from the reality of contemporary Silicon Valley tech culture.

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Silencing the Conscious: The Representation of the API Body in Ex Machina
Hyphen Magazine
Online, Blog Post
July 08, 2015