Ava is the latest invention of Nathan Bateman – CEO of Blueprint, a fictional version of Google, and mega-database which has become an integrative part of the contemporary man’s life. Ava is a humanoid AI provided with a liquid consciousness that connects the infinite material of the human cognition enclosed in the mazes of Blueprint, as well as people’s facial reactions which the search engine has gathered without permission from the users’ personal devices’ camera.

Ex_Machina (2014), an independent film written and directed by Alex Garland, focuses on testing Ava’s consciousness towards her prisoner-state. Throughout the narrative, Nathan offers Ava the opportunity to manipulate Caleb Smith, an average programmer of his excellent company, to outsmart her creator and “pacifically” evade from his “glossy Eden”.

The latest sci-fi projection of AI explores what are the prerequisites to being human and what are the consequences of creating a conscious artefact. The following lines illustrate the similarities between Ava and Cinema as an externalisation of the human’s mind. We will explore the impact of technology on the embodied cognitive ability of people, and how cinema (as a cognitive artefact) is imperatively manipulative as result of our cognitive capabilities.


The development of Ex_Machina suggests that the fulcrum of the film represents the execution and finalisation of the Turing Test performed by Caleb on Ava. The Test, invented by Alan Turing (1950), is a confrontation between a person and a machine through written text. If the thinking person cannot distinguish the machine’s human language “imitation” from a genuine human interaction, then the test is passed. Ava passes the test superlatively satisfactory, but what are the implication that made Caleb declare so?


According to Descartes’, the prerequisite for having a mind indulges the usage of “true language” (LaBossiere, M. 2015). Ava, in fact, covers the requirements which, in this case, are enhanced by the AI’s human appearance, therefore, the visual interaction between the two components of the test. However, is consciousness a person’s peculiarity (1)? And, if not, is embodied experience a further requirement to attest the consciousness which is not exemplified by humans (2)?


AI Mind – Cinema Mind (1)

“Machines can never think as humans do but just because something thinks differently from you, does it mean it’s not thinking?” (The Imitation Game, 2014)


Because of the functioning procedures of machines, as well as cinema, operate through different modalities than human cognitive processes operate, it does not imply that machines cannot have a diverse cognitive function.


The mind of biological creatures might differ metaphysically from those of machines. The mind of the machine would be indistinguishable from the processing structure of the machine and its state. According to Descartes thoughts (1641) on Substance Dualism (Robinson, H. 2003), the mind is a non-physical substance that somehow controls the physical matter that composes the body. Immaterial Substance cogitates and material substance is thoughtless and extended through technology. Following Descartes line of reasoning, a machine ghost in a mechanical shell is likely to exist as a ghost in an organic shell. As such, if the human mind can be formless, then so could machines mind.


The existence of a machine mind further adapts to Functionalism, a contemporary theory of mind. Functionalism divulges the substantial view of the mind, translated into its mental states that are observed in physical systems. However, a particular mental state is not defined by a specific physical state. In machines, two substantially different chips can have the same function.


Consciousness is rigorously connected to neurophysiology. “Animals that have qualitatively similar neurophysiology to our own are likely to be conscious” (Griffin 1981, 2001 cited in Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Stuart S. pp. 169). As man conceived language, many animals use a set of communication to interact with each other “and in humans, [as in] other animals, tools are devised to conquer tasks for which bodies by themselves are insufficient.” (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Stuart S. pp. 169).

Rothenberg considers language an “extension of the cognitive functions, which include functions of the senses, central nervous system and ‘consciousness’” (Brey, P. 2000, pp. 2). Therefore, according to this line of reasoning, consciousness is not solely enclosed in the human body.


Cinematographic representation of the world, in fact, can be considered as the extension of the director’s neurophysiologic mechanisms, therefore, of his cognitive processes. Per Rothenberg, technological artefacts “are an extension of human intention. Our intentions, or desires, are normally contained within our own organism. However, as we create technologies, these technologies become carriers of our intentions, and hence extensions of them” (Brey, P. 2000 pp. 6). Cinema is classified as “cognitive artefact” (Norman, D. 1993, cited in Brey, P. 2000 pp. 15) since its symbiosis, and hence embodiment, can represent, store, retrieve and manipulate information.

Therefore, in cinema, the director’s cognitive functions are exposed and described through cinematographic techniques that are permanently captured by technological tools. Consequently, the consciousness of Cinema begins at the interrelation between the functionalism of the director’s cognition and the artificial reflection of the latter in the artefacts that he uses. “The calculation […] is performed by a new symbolic unit, a system composed of two mutually dependent functional units, human and machine” (Brey, P. 2000 pp. 16).

We would not be if artefacts were not, just as artefacts would not be without us.


Embodied Experience (2)

“Consciousness […] is supervenient to embodied cognition, which is gained through enactment in the world” (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Tikka, P.  pp.142). Functioning in the world activate a connection between the latter and our senses, depicting to the brain the external information that forms our behaviours. The manner that our physicality adapts and consequently reacts to the environment shapes the embodied experience. The latter further portrays the relation between humans and the artefacts that “[mediate] one’s experience of, and interaction with, one’s environment” (technology essay pp.15). The items, however, are not solely present in the world but are the means through which men experiences the latter. Even though our senses continually inform our neurological system about our surrounds, we yet extend these functions through technology (Brey, P. 2000 pp. 15).

The cinematographic projection itself, like other artificial items, “’withdraws’ and becomes a medium like other senses” (Brey, P. 2000 pp. 15) that is both experienced and through which we witness and engage with the world and ‘others’. Cinema is acknowledged through the selfsame occurrence. In cinematic theory, the latter concept crafted the cinema apparatus where “the camera [is the] perceptive organ of the cinematic, the projector its expressive organ, the screen its discrete and material centre” (Utterson, A. 2007 pp. 135). Utterson’s view indulges the cinematic exists a visible performance of the perspective and expressive structure of lived-body experience (Utterson, A. 2007 pp. 135).


Manipulative Intelligence vs Emotional Intelligence

Ava’s cognitive functions aroused Caleb’s empathy toward her status of imprisonment and further motivated him to liberate the AI expecting the last to engage in a relationship with him as he accomplishes her liberation. Throughout the narrative, we discover that Nathan made previous prototypes of AI, which had an aggressive behaviour against captivity. Therefore, Ava was prototyped to use her cognitive functions to accomplish a refined evasion that would indulge Nathan’s ego by substantiating his superior intelligence if he could achieve the creation of a conscious android that could outsmart its creator. The major question at this stage reflects the dilemma of recognising in Ava the primary requisite that it takes to be human – Emotional Intelligence (EQ).


Without a Voight-Kampff machine (Sammon, P. 1999 pp. 106,107), the polygraph-like engine used to distinguish replicates from humans in Blade Runner (1982) by measuring physical reactions in response to queries dealing with empathy, Caleb genuinely senses Ava as a human being.


Ava’s cognition and physical existence are the fulcrum of Caleb’s embodied experiences which fuel his motivations. However, Nathan designed Ava’s liquid consciousness to navigate the human mental maze to escape. In fact, she appears to understand what motivates Caleb and how to manipulate him to accomplish her purpose.


Technology, as a human creation, encloses in the functional and purposeful features of its artefacts a parallelism with the faculties of human biological organs. Kapp finalises that the last execution is not intentioned, instead, is the result of the human unconscious disposition to expand intentions and desires through external senses (Brey, P. 2000 pp. 4). The embodied experience, on the other hand, shapes humankind through the mutual compensation between senses, neurophysiology and world.


As filmography extends and encloses man’s cognition, the cinematographic embodied experience sculpts the audience senses towards a deep cognitive involvement. “Cinematic expression […] manipulates all plausible elements of everyday life – both the visual and literal, spoken and written, conventional and emergent sign systems” (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, referring to Tikka, P.  pp.22) that internally impact our perceptions and behaviours. The imitation game played by projection acts on the neurochemical level of the brain likewise the embodied experience, with the only peculiarity that the latter is not casually contrived. In the filmmaking, the author deploys things or events in the mind, “spatially, metaphorically and conceptually (visual phenomena like grading, saturation, or distortions, dissolves, movements of turning objects, figure-background oscillations, etc.)” (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Tikka, P. pp.146). When the individual absorbs cinematic projection, the embodied experience acts on a neurochemical level by reflecting the latter in an internalised mechanism that might result in “empathy, imitation, character identification, or situated contextualization” (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Tikka, P.  pp.145). Indeed, the mirror metaphor within moving images has been divulged since the nature of the latter find roots in scientific claims. “Famous film quotations are good examples as they detach themselves from their direct film context to virally propagate across the culture at large” (Elsässer and Hagener, 2015 pp.151). The statement made by Elsässer and Hagener finds evidence throughout the history of propaganda, which uses moving images as a manipulative source (Elsässer and Hagener, 2015 pp. 150).


The factor that differentiates human cognition from the consciousness projected in our tools and environment is the emotive-cognitive state that relies on the E.Q. assets.

The simulation of reality and surreal impacts our consciousness and unconsciousness when the narratives inhabit the experiential cognition. Following the same line of reasoning, the ability to produce cinematographic experiences have the power of affecting other minds (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Tikka, P.  pp.154). Throughout the latter, “interaction with the real world and the conscious brain becomes disconnected at least partially” (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Tikka, P.  pp.150). Cinema imitates the embodied world and simulates the brain apparatus while exposing a narrative that impacts the audience on a neurological level by the analogy of dreaming. Indeed, the steams of events in a narration influence humanity in such a manner that our cognitive abilities “can be claimed not to be fully conscious about the other events around [us]” (Pepperell, R. and Punt, M. 2006, essay by Tikka, P.  pp. 141).



In conclusion, the writing of the present essay was an attempt to analysing Cinema through the singular comparison between its nature and the content of Ex_Machina. Blending theories that cover the Study of Consciousness from the perspective of different pursuits – science, filmography, arts and philosophy – the first finding asserted that cognitive function is not a human peculiarity. Since technology embodies and extends our neurological functions and our purposes, the functionalisation of artefacts gains cognition from the ambivalence of man and machine. At this stage Ava, as a human artefact appeared to share with Cinema the attributes of cognition. Secondly, the research exemplified that the last assessment occurs through embodied experience when all our senses engage with the external world and mould behaviours, perspectives, identity and cognition per se. Through embodied experience, the essay explained Caleb’s willingness to nurture feelings for Ava, which was created carrying a purpose, Nathan’s aim of indulging his ego through building the first humanlike AI. However, consequently, Ava nurtured a manipulative contrivance toward Caleb. Lastly, the investigation finalised the requirement that further proves mechanical cognition by recognising the implication that differentiates the human perception from any other cognitive function – Emotional intelligence – which additionally explained Caleb’s emotional attachment to Ava and humanity’s affection to Cinema. Finally, the latter demonstrated the manipulative nature of cinema by combining the entire range of assessments previously explored and neuroscience. Most likely, Alex Garland had no intention to examine the nature of Cinema. However, his creation embodies the aspects of cinematography considered in these previous lines and emphatically touches our deepest sentiments and sensations regarding the implications that define humankind by extending his intentions though the making of Ex_Machine.

by Nicole Afonso Alves Calistri






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