Simone de Beauvoir once argued that there is a big difference between being a female and being a woman. One is born a female and is defined as a female because of one’s sex. Being a woman, on the other hand, is an evolution and much of what we think of what a woman should be depends on the pervading culture on which the female is born into. Beauvoir further argues that the woman of today is pretty much defined by a patriarchal society. The men have defined women as feminine as opposed to being masculine. Men have inculcated to the society at large that women are of a weaker sex. The effect of this is that for the longest time, women are subjugated by the men, which is considered the “stronger sex.”
I was reminded of this when I finally saw Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, about a billionaire who creates an artificial intelligence in the form of a woman. The creator, Nathan, lives alone in what seems like paradise (Eden perhaps?) with his inventions. He invites one of his employees, Caleb, to spend a week with him in his hideaway cum laboratory. The real reason for this invitation is for Caleb to do a Turing test on Nathan’s newest creation, Ava (Eve?). The test of course becomes a jumping off point for what it means to be human and what it means to be a robot. At some point, Caleb argues that one cannot completely test an AI based on what it has been programmed to do --- like an AI who knows how to play chess. In order to fully test its capabilities, a human should test an AI’s intelligence outside its preconceived, pre-programmed reality. In many respects, it is like de Beauvoir’s observation about women being born with preconceived qualities and tasks. The society, she said, need to break away from the chains of this patriarchal invention.
Ultimately of course Ava proves to be more complicated than what Caleb and Nathan initially considered her to be. The fact that Ex Machina never concerns itself with the tired arguments of man versus machine and turns its story about gender and freedom is, I think, the movie’s greatest strength.
Plus, the movie had Oscar Isaac dancing! Why not, indeed!