Human nature can be defined as a set of characteristics that define and make up humanity. It makes people inherently human and unique from all other living things. Human nature is made up of the ability to love, reason, create, and experience a wide range of emotions. No other forms of life possess such a capacity. This essay compares human nature in two films: The Matrix and Ex Machina. It will look at the understanding of human nature that the films main characters, scriptwriters and directors hold. It will also provide an assessment of these understandings and how they shape the characters ethics.
The Matrix is a futuristic science fiction thriller in which the main character is a hacker named Neo who doubles up as a computer programmer. After getting several encrypted messages, he starts looking for the leader of a secret resistance group called Morpheus, who he thinks is sending the messages. Neo finally finds him and is informed that the reality is quite different from what people think of it. Morpheus explains to Neo that human beings existence is just a facade. In the real sense, people are being used as a source of energy by a certain race of sentient, evil machines. They actually live all their lives in pods whereby their brains are injected with a certain stimuli that present them with an illusion of living normal lives. Neo is recruited to battle the race of machines trying to destroy humanity. To do this, he is equipped with advanced martial arts and paramilitary skills in a rather remarkable manner. Instead of undergoing long hours of training and practice, Neo is connected to a machine whereby all the expertise he requires is uploaded to his brain. In the film, acquisition of data is made quick and easy by the upload from a compute via a so-called brain-computer interface.
Ex Machina tells the story of a young programmer called Caleb who gets a chance to meet Nathan, the reclusive CEO of the firm he works for. He is to spend one week in Nathans house that seems to be in the middle of nowhere. As soon as he gets there, Nathan tells Caleb that he has been conducting experiments on AI (artificial intelligence), and wants him to conduct a certain test to find out if the technology can be converted into a human being. The AI, called Ava, interacts with Caleb in daily sessions during which he asks her questions aimed at finding out abilities such as emotional responses and linguistic capabilities. Caleb soon finds out that Ava possesses a high degree of intelligence, something that raises questions to do with ethics. He begins to wonder about the kind of treatment that Nathan subjects her to, and whether she should be set free if she so desires. It is revealed that Caleb was played by both Nathan and the AI. Nathan had instructed Ava to try as much as she could to convince the programmer to assist her escape. This involved first convincing him that Nathan was mistreating her and that she truly cared about. Meanwhile, Ava did not think of the ruse as a mere game as she takes the opportunity to escape as soon as it presents itself. She the murders Nathan and locks Caleb inside the house in the exact kind of imprisonment that Nathan had subjected her to.
The film The Matrix reflects on human nature and something from the reality of the current world. Most people have professional and personal goals that they try to achieve in the course of their lives. They have to achieve success in their careers so that they can live the lives they desire while also accomplishing their dreams. A problem occurs in that people live in a closed world in which only human beings are present. Perhaps the only limits they have are those imposed by culture, traditions, and laws. They are not answerable to anything else apart from other humans, and no major predators are present to worry about. Agent Smith, the main antagonist in The Matrix, makes an excellent point when he says that they have attempted to create an ideal world for human beings in which there is no anger, violence, or murder. However, the matrix has failed since evil happens to be part of human nature. Humans will always curiously destroy themselves or others.
Ex Machina is a movie that is fundamentally all about what it means to be a human being. All the questions that it raises are in one way or another related to this issue. Considering its main topic and theme, it is hardly surprising. For one, the audience gets to whether Ava possesses true artificial intelligence or she is just imitating what she observes around her. While there is a never-ending search for the truth about human expression, it remains to be seen where it can be found. People often wonder which traits are uniquely and truly human. If such characteristics are imitated, could it mean that they are not real despite the fact that they are mimicked perfectly? They also wonder whether the desire for freedom is any less real if it is cultivated rather than being inborn.
In Ex Machina, two different views are put forward of what is eventually needed in order for a human being to be considered successful. The character of Nathan is in favor of instinctual drives. He is of the opinion that the inability to act on instinct in an indicator that no new things will ever be created. It is acting on instinct that spurs the reproduction and development of the human species. The idea matches with the task that he gave Ava. She was to utilize her instinct to figure out the skills to apply at any given time that would compel Caleb to assist her escape. However, Nathan had no intention of allowing Ava to succeed, and did not expect that Caleb would outsmart him by tricking him into thinking that he was yet to disable the houses security protocols. This is the part where Calebs opinion on humanity comes into play as thinks humanity is defined by freedom. He points out that Ava will never understand what it feels like to be human as long as she is held captive in the house. Until such a time, freedom to her will merely be theoretical concept. Calebs notion that the AI should be free is so strong to the extent that he would go to any lengths to ensure that she achieves freedom. All in all, he fails to realize that Ava does not really care for him the way she does for her, a situation that results in him losing his own freedom. It turns out that Ava just wanted freedom irrespective of the cost.
Ava, who finally manages to escape, has definitely passes the test set upon her by Nathan that involves applying her instincts to manipulate Caleb. In addition, she passes Calebs test given that she breaks free, and manages to embrace and experience humanity while not being held prisoner in Nathans house. All in all, it is not clarified whether her feelings are real or simulated. When the film ends, it is clear that Ava falsified her affection for Caleb in order to enable her escape from the house. However, this does not give a definite answer to whether or not she is capable of displaying any human emotion.
In The Matrix, a few characters have managed to escape from the artificial human world, led by Morpheus. These are the ones who adopt one characteristic of human nature: self-actualization. They have figured out that human beings are not the only species on earth, and that other organisms do exist. These escapees also realize that human were on the verge of destroying the other species such as animals and plants that they thought as not necessary to their survival. The films main theme examines the idea that it is possible for humans to be blinded by the truth concerning their own existence in a way that they cannot know any better. While they search, they fail to see the truth due to the illusion portrayed to them by the world.
In his entire life, Neo has always had a feeling that something is quite not right with the world he observes around him. Whatever explanations are given do not quite match with the facts. This is part of human nature. As the films plot unfolds, it is seen that the timeline is in the late 2190s and not in the late 1990s as everyone thinks. Everything they see, hear and smell is part of a virtual construct known as the matrix, and does not really exist. Their brains are merely stimulated by a certain computer program that deceives them into thinking they are living normal lives in the twentieth century. All humans are blinded to the truth on their existence. Only a handful of people are aware of the truth and have managed to escape from the matrix.
Whenever people try to think about the nature of their existence and why they are in this world, assorted complexities of life often deter them before they even begin. Life is simply too complicated. There is no way of knowing what is real and what is merely an illusion triggered by peoples subjective perception of the world. It is difficult to be objective about the universe if people can only understand it using the five physical senses. In the film, the characters had no way of figuring out that the computer-generated reality was not real.
Ex Machina asks the audience to look for the truth on humanity? However, this only raises the question of where such truth can be found. People wonder how to know if any of our thoughts, habits and desires are for real as opposed to being cultivated by their environments. As mentioned earlier, the film does not offer a definitive answer to this question. All in all, this absence of an answer actually paves way for a different manner of looking at the human experience. The desires, instincts and drives that Ava displays can be thought of as performative in nature.
In the film, Ava is seen to exhibit gender together with humanity. For instance, there is a scene in which she is talking to Caleb whereby she informs him that she would like to show him something. She then gets into her private room and wears some clothes. It is revealed that her wardrobe is full of girly clothes, and that she emanates a specific type of femininity: one in which she is girly, virginal, and innocent. Caleb makes a comment to Nathan on this issue later one, asking why he opted to make Ava female considering that an artificial intelligence does not need a gender. Caleb begins to suspect what Nathans real intentions are, and is already having a feeling that he is being manipulated. The comment also shows that Caleb does not really think that the AI should have a gender, let alone for Ava to behave in a specified feminine manner. Hence, her gender is perceived as a performance as opposed to something that she can distinctively experience.
The AIs humanity behaves in an almost similar manner. She imitates what she observes in people, learning rapidly from their behavior. She then realigns her own behavior accordingly in a way that she becomes an intelligent human-like subject. In addition to what she feels, and more importantly, Ava is aware of what is expected of her.
Gilbert, P. (2016). Human nature and suffering. Routledge.
Hume, D. (2014). A treatise of human nature. Simon and Schuster.
Laird, J. (2014). Hume's Philosophy of Human Nature (Routledge Revivals). Routledge.
Prinz, J. J. (2014). Beyond human nature: How culture and experience shape the human mind. WW Norton & Company.
Soga, M., & Gaston, K. J. (2016). Extinction of experience: the loss of humannature interactions. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(2), 94-101.
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