"If you've created a conscious machine," says Caleb to Nathan toward the beginning of Ex Machina, when Caleb discovers Nathan is on the verge of creating an artificial intelligence indistinguishable from human intelligence, "it's not the history of man. Ex Machina, written and directed by Alex Garland, is an intriguing film about the wonders and dangers of artificial intelligence (AI). Garland's tale is stylishly told, beautifully photographed, and aided by a clever script that subverts standard cinematic clichés. It is also suffused with religious themes and theological motifs--unsurprisingly, because ever since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the prospect of human beings creating human-like beings of their own has almost invariably raised the issue of "playing God." In Ex Machina, Caleb is a computer coder brought to Nathan's secret research facility to apply the Turing Test to Nathan's AI--that is, to test whether a human interacting with the robot would be able to tell that the AI is non-human.
Isaac Asimov coined the term "Frankenstein Complex" to describe the fear that the general public has towards humanmade technologies when they invade the realm commonly considered to be God's domain. Recently, several people have made a name for themselves partially by fanning this flame. This poster demonstrates some of the historical evidence of this fear and provides reasons why it is unfounded. Finally, it suggests a way for the AI community to help ameliorate the public's fear of a marauding species of homicidal robots.
One of the most widely known practitioners of artificial intelligence never used a computer or built what we'd think of as a robot. Mary Shelley's Dr. Victor Frankenstein, the creator of a "modern Prometheus" capable of thinking and acting on his own, captivated readers from the moment the novel Frankenstein first appeared on shelves. But that success belies the fact that Shelley was still ahead of her time. What once seemed like a bizarre fantasy--the notion that man could create a being who could think as we do--is, today, a fascination. It helps that we've grown closer, in our world, to making Dr. Frankenstein's Promethean dream a reality.
In 1818, the first copy of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was published. Two hundred years later, it's still our go-to monster story, even if the cultural images we associate with it owe more to Boris Karloff's portrayal of the monster than Mary Shelley's original novel. Only a handful of books maintain relevance beyond a decade, let alone 200 years – yet Frankenstein endures to this day and still offers instant shorthand for cultural touchstones. Even the name Frankenstein conjures up images of a frightening hotchpotch concoction that isn't natural and shouldn't exist: Frankenfoods, Frankenbabies, and even Frankenalgorithms. That latter of these is important.
There is an indisputable link between Victor Frankenstein's creation (let's try and veer away from the term monster), and Artificial Intelligence. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's narrative of the modern Prometheus has travelled through time and space, surpassing generations. For me, the classic tale of Frankenstein and his creation is timeless - in the true sense of the word. It cannot be bolted down. Bore from growing scientific circles of the Victorian era and the mind of an intellectually advanced teenage girl, it boasts post-modern sensibilities and futuristic ideals.