3rd International Conference

Digital Culture & AudioVisual Challenges

Interdisciplinary Creativity in Arts and Technology

Online, May 28-29, 2021

Passing the Turing Test: Filmic Postbodies and A.I. Fantasies
Date and Time: 28/05/2021 (10:05-11:45)
Aikaterini Papakyriakopoulou

Summary: This presentation examines visual representations of androids in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina (2014), with the objective of comparing filmic visions of A.I. to existing technologies. The methodology is derived from a theoretical framework with a focus on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, as well as cultural and film theory.

Inspired by the posthuman concept and its realization in the worlds of both technology and culture, this work explores filmic depictions of artificially intelligent humanoid robots. Parallels can be drawn between the merging of film and A.I. technology and the merging of human and machine, with the latter referring to Artificial Intelligence as defined by Jean-Pierre Chamoux (Chamoux, 2018).

The presentation consists of a theoretical study focusing on representations of Artificial Intelligence and the Turing Test in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. The methodology draws from Artificial Intelligence and film theory. While film is the main focus, examples from visual arts will also be used as case studies. Filmic representations differ from artistic ones in the sense that they do not only visualize A.I. technologies but they also attempt to simulate them, similarly to how A.I. technology simulates human intelligence. The theoretical framework includes cyborg feminism, particularly concerning how cultural texts, especially films, represent and, often, objectify female cyborg bodies.

The analysis focuses on visual representations of postbodies, a term I will use to refer to nonhuman bodies, motivated by Katherine Hayles’ study on the posthuman. The primary question is how these bodies reflect but also deviate from existing A.I. technologies, as well as theoretical visions about the future of Artificial Intelligence and androids.

A second question concerns how the A.I. and posthuman discourses are combined, as they both refer to the merging of human and machine. According to Hayles, in the posthuman view there is no clear and absolute difference between embodiment and computer simulation of intelligence (Hayles, 1999: 3). Hayles focuses on consciousness rather than intelligence, while Artificial Intelligence refers to a computer system that models “some aspect of human intelligence” (Adam, 1998: 1). However, this presentation examines how a number of sci-fi films represent different versions of ‘intelligent’ machines, by depicting androids that are designed to display both human intelligence and consciousness. This transcends the scientific definition of Artificial Intelligence by assuming that consciousness is something that humans can inculcate to machines. The distinction indicates that, apart from highly intelligent machines with automated responses designed by humans to serve humans, such films also represent machines with anthropomorphic characteristics, like empathy or fear, as well as an understanding of themselves. An example is the famous computer HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) whose consciousness enabled it to act in its own interest.

The film industry is becoming more and more engaged with such depictions, as artificially intelligent machines are moving from the realm of fantasy into reality. To an extent, the previous decade has contributed to A.I. dreams coming true, for instance through the introduction of A.I. virtual assistants, such as Apple’s Siri (2011), Microsoft’s Cortana (2014), and Amazon’s Alexa (2014) (Meissner, 2019). On the other hand, recent filmography contemplates what the world would look like if such machines demonstrated human consciousness instead of automated computer responses. It is particularly interesting that the film intentionally gives a misleading interpretation of the Turing Test. According to Turing’s definition, “the Turing Test involves two participants: the first, a human interrogator is testing the second to determine whether they are human or machine” (Turing, 1950). While a core requirement for the Turing Test is that the interrogator cannot see the second participant, the film represents a case in which the interrogator knows he is interacting with a female android and has to determine whether she has self-consciousness. This misinterpretation leads to further questions about the future of humans and machines and correlates to Donna Haraway’s definition of a cyborg as “a hybrid of machine and organism” (Haraway, 1991: 149).

Conclusion: The analysis argues that recent sci-fi films like Ex Machina focus on both the existence of artificially intelligent systems and the utopian cinematic fantasy of them simulating and even replacing human intelligence. While challenging the concept of the Turing Test might be implausible from a technological point of view, it can still stimulate fruitful discourses from a cultural perspective by broadening the idea of “passing”: from an android passing as a human to a genderless entity passing as a woman, Ex Machina combines Turing’s famous imitation game with social mimicking and masquerade.


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