'We're a long way from a singularity' says 'Ex Machina' AI consultant

Geneticist Adam Rutherford, who served as artificial intelligence consultant on recent robo-flick "Ex Machina", says robots have always played the villain in human stories.

Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
Luke Westaway
2 min read

On-screen robots tend to rise up and crush their puny human masters with alarming regularity.

"I decided to log every single incidence of artificial intelligence or robots in the history of cinema," Adam Rutherford, a British geneticist and author who served as AI consultant on the recent film "Ex Machina", tells CNET's Crave blog. "I think I calculated that 65 percent of them end up being a threat, and the rest of them are just servile."

Speaking at a London event to promote the DVD and Blu-ray release of the critically acclaimed movie -- which tells the story of a humanoid robot cooked up by reclusive Web billionaire Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) -- Rutherford says our yearning to portray robots on screen is one way in which we figure out our own minds.

"It's the question of what makes us human," he says. "We don't even understand our own consciousness particularly well, and what good sci-fi does is reflects our own questions and our own anxieties."

Robots are, Rutherford says, "threatening as a dramatic idea, but that has been the full history of robots in cinema," pointing back to the first use of the word "robot" -- a 1920 play by Karel Čapek in which factory-built humanoids rise up and overthrow their makers.

"It's been a consistent theme throughout cinematic history that robots will ultimately destroy us," Rutherford says. He adds that the recent spate of AI-centric films -- including "Her", "Chappie", "Transcendence" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron" -- could be down to an increasing interest in artificial intelligence.

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"Sometimes those ideas just tip over from being ideas in the scientific community, or in the academic community, into the general public, and we're thinking about that in those terms with AI." The geneticist, who praised "Ex Machina" for the way in which its robot's intelligence was amalgamated from search engine data, cautioned that, "We're a long way from a singularity."

With plenty more robots likely to make it to the silver screen in the coming years, it's clear that we humans haven't yet come to terms with our own consciousness. Here's hoping when the robots do rise up, they take a similarly sympathetic view of our portrayal of machines in movies.

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