Intersections: "Ex Machina" and #iLookLikeAnEngineer



I had a couple of spare hours the other night and decided to indulge by watching "Ex Machina" for the first time (yes, I'm behind on movies). Critical acclaim for this was through the roof, and I hoped for the next Gattaca. Instead, I got badly stereotyped characters, exploitative female nudity, sexual moralizing, and a throwback "evil A.I." plot.

I want my spare hours back.

When the #iLookLikeAnEngineer meme took the internet by firestorm, it provided the perfect real-life counterfactual for "Ex Machina."

If you are writing fiction - especially science fiction! - you have a wealth of possibilities to play with. That reclusive internet billionaire genius? Doesn't have to be a hipster-beard-sporting dudebro. The awkward and sweet software engineer? Doesn't have to look like he lives deprived of sunshine and nutrition.

Gag me with a spoon, Silicon Valley people, because this casting lacks in imagination AND reality. As the #iLookLikeAnEngineer tag demonstrates, waifish pixie girls are also brilliant engineers. So are people who aren't white or thin or young or straight or able-bodied.

The double whammy is a bunch of naked lady sex robots and how they stick it to the horn-dog man at the end. So, basically, we know the bad guy's evil because he's turned his AI robots into sex slaves. This insults men, sex, and AIs. They make the point earlier in the movie that he's coded pleasure into the robots' sexual organs. Methinks they forgot about Pavlov: people die for cocaine. Pleasure is one of the strongest motivators around. WHY would his robots hate him for that?

Also, was it necessary to slow-pan over Every. Single. Naked. Robot? All female, of course. Hello, Hollywood double standards!

Last but not least, we have the plot. Oh me, oh my, why are the Hollywood A.I. robots such assholes? To be fair, there is an exception: kids' movies. Did you see "Big Hero 6?" Now that is a great example of imaginative characterization, a clever science-fiction plot, and - oh, wow! - a reasonably "intelligent" robot that isn't a sociopath.

The real tragedy illustrated by "Ex Machina" and #iLookLikeAnEngineer is lack of imagination. Critics of this movie seemed were so overwhelmed by style that they failed to notice the boring substance. Meanwhile, in reality, people were calling out Isis Wegner (the source of #iLookLikeAnEngineer) for being a recruiting-tool actress rather than a programmer. "Ex Machina" had an opportunity to change the narrative, to challenge people's assumptions, but they squandered it in the worst way.

Forget artificial intelligence. Let's work on improving our natural version first!