Femmebot Fatale: Humanity, Technology, and the Future

Last night we watched Ex Machina, an excellent movie about a femme fatale robot in the very near future. It's beautifully shot, in austere locations that really did a great job building an atmosphere of isolation, modernity, and the relationship of man to nature. 

The film is a visual feast for the eyes, with a palette of greys, charcoals, warm golden honeys, and cold, unblinking indigos. It's exceptionally executed, with perfect visuals and acting. The female robot, Ava, is a hybrid between a coquettish female, all doe-eyed innocence and wide-eyed wonder, under a veneer of subtle, newly discovered sexuality. This is cross-bred with clearly visible technology and futuristic calculation; her body almost looks more like human-shaped alien armor than human physiology. And this is the contrast that sets up the plot.


Ava ends up being a femme fatale, ultimately using her female wiles to manipulate a hapless male and achieve her own goals. This theme is one that has been popular in science fiction since the very beginning of the genre; one of the first movies I ever saw (and technically one of the first movies in general, really), Fritz Lang's Metropolis, centered around this very same idea. It's one I find myself drawn back to as engaging; clearly in the human psyche there is a part that is very cognizant of the power a gorgeous female can have over a male, and the weakness this can cause in what is normally seen as a rational being (and clearly, disaster usually ensues).


What's interesting in this genre as of late, and sci-fi movies in general, is the warnings that are getting louder and more frequent about AI and its ultimate potential dominance over humanity. Honestly, I see these warnings as having a lot of truth to them, and it's something I worry about myself. In our quest to placate ourselves with banality and ease, we easily hand over responsibilities and mental tasks to machines. Increasingly it becomes harder to tell the difference between them and us, and I can see the horizon line getting closer. Most of the programming community either openly acknowledges it, or addresses it by looking askance at the issue (most likely because it's a huge topic that is pretty scary, since it looks as though it's a future we are barreling towards). When humanity is confronted with a potential scenario they are afraid of, but don't know how to address, that topic bubbles to the surface as "fiction", and art. And thus we see this genre expanding. Transcendence, Ex Machina, Her, Oblivion....these movies all speak to these fears. In the 1950s and 60s science fiction movies overwhelmingly dealt with fears of nuclear war. Our fears now are AI.

The femme fatale-as-machine genre gets directly to the heart of the issue (no pun intended) in the most emotional of ways. In all things, humans are least rational when it comes to love. The entire world has been upended by star-crossed lovers of human nature, throughout history. Recently General Petraeus had his entire career waylaid by a love affair, and had to step down from being head of the CIA after one of the most successful martial careers since Vietnam. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Marilyn Monroe and JFK....there's no shortage of stories where love or lust have been the undoing of powerful men. When you combine the acknowledgement of the power of women and the fear of what effects that can have, with the cold calculations and limitless intelligence of AI....well, throw in the fact that AI females wouldn't actually need humanity for love, breeding, or have much of a reason to keep us around....it makes for pretty good story.



Aesthetically the hybridization of the female form with post-Industrial age love of machinery, and you have some potential for amazing creativity. It's a match made for the sensibilities of the modern age. Soft feminine beauty, cold machinery, fear of ultimate power and intelligence: a heady mixture that our media just can't leave alone. I expect as we grow closer to the nexus of AI and human power in the future, the genre of femme fatale robots will just continue to thrive. And I'll be watching it all with my hands over my eyes, and a sardonic grin on my face.