Alex Garland’s fascination with artificial intelligence began at an early age. Long before writing Sunshine, 28 Days Later and The Beach, the young Garland would tinker with conversational programs fed into his ZX Spectrum in BASIC. “You could give it the affectation of intelligence,” he tells ShortList. “There was something eerie about that in the mind of a child.”
But until now it’s all been for show, he says. “There’s been a lot that’s been impressive – like Siri, for instance – but nothing that makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.”
With his directorial debut Ex Machina, Garland imagines a near-future where AI is not just possible, but impossibly attractive. Ava (Alicia Vikander), pictured above, has her billionaire creator (Oscar Isaac) and his eager young coder (Domhnall Gleeson) utterly in thrall to her humanity, despite her obvious artificiality.
The film centres around the Turing Test – designed to determine whether a human can be fooled into thinking a machine is conscious. Despite recent headlines, which claimed a chatbot called Eugene Goostman had passed the test, nothing has come close.
“That was preposterous,” says Garland. “People fear that the test is about to be passed. Our basic sense is that computers are getting close to reaching our level of intelligence – even though they’re not – and that unsettles people.
“I like the idea of AI, and I want us to get there,” he says. “If we don’t develop AI, our story is going to be a lot shorter.”
Ex Machina is at cinemas nationwide from 23 January 2015