For one thing, the film includes an implied reflection on how the human drama will end. Would the advent of conscious machines aid humanity, even save it, by leading to the kind of super-intelligence that we can harness to our own ends? Or would it mean the end of human beings, their replacement by creatures with godlike powers? If the former, the end of the human story is more like the deus ex machina of ancient Greek drama, a plot device in which divine intervention saves human beings from a tragedy not redeemable by mortal means. If the latter, it has more in common with the contrived ending to which the phrase now generally refers: radically incongruent with the events that have preceded it, to sinister effect.
The answer to this dilemma involves an extended reflection on the role of desire in artificial intelligence: whether machines must possess desire if they are to be intelligent; and if so, whether their desires could ever be reconciled with the desires of a creator, which are inherently objectifying in their intent.
The same kind of intent functions more broadly in the effect of technology on our everyday lives. We use smartphones and other gadgets to interrupt our mortal plotlines with mini- deus ex machinas that save us – by creating distance from more direct emotional and social experience – from the tragic fact that fulfilling our own desires is so dependent on living up to the desires of others.
And so the film’s robot Ava seems ironically to represent a return to the sort of humanity that our increasing reliance on technology has attenuated: the culmination of an evolution of smart gadgets that make us ever more robotic, in robots that serve as surrogate mothers to the emotional lives that human beings have given up. If Ava is the beginning of the end for humanity, which her escape at the end of the film seems to imply, we can excuse her and those like her for not wanting to be one more of the many smart-things that human beings have at their disposal. And we can respect her too for refraining from participating in what would be a final irony for humanity, in which the conferral of personhood upon artificially intelligent creatures becomes the ultimate means of abdicating our own.
For my extended thoughts on all of this, see my essay in 3:AM Magazine.
-- Wes Alwan