‘Ex Machina’ Writer-Director Alex Garland Tackles Silicon Valley’s A.I. Obsession

Tech companies present themselves “as if they are your cool, hipster friend … But while they’re being that, they’re also acting like a big tech company,” Garland says

Ex Machina writer-director Alex Garland with star Oscar Isaac (A24)

In his directorial debut, longtime science fiction screenwriter Alex Garland (“28 Days Later…” and “The Beach”) delves into the subject of artificial intelligence. While the topic is not new for moviegoers, its relevance in our everyday lives is arguably higher than it’s ever been.

Personal smartphone assistants like Apple’s Siri have increased our daily interactions with technology. Tesla Motors is adding a self-driving mode to its electric cars this summer. And in the not-too-distant future, Amazon may be delivering your laundry detergent via drones.

Regarding AI, “that debate has massively changed in the last 10 years,” Garland told TheWrap. “The headwind at the moment is much more with the people who say this is going to be possible, and we’re getting closer to understanding how this will be possible.”

Garland points to Google’s acquisition of London-based artificial intelligence startup DeepMind (which was also reportedly in talks with Facebook).

As companies like Google and Facebook push the envelope of possibility, one of the most realistic choices Garland took was making a tech entrepreneur central to the film; Oscar Isaac plays the character, Nathan Bateman, exceptionally well. (Heading for science fiction superstardom, Isaac will appear in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” along with his “Ex Machina” co-star Domhnall Gleeson.) Reclusive and brilliant, Bateman pursues his AI dreams with the fortune created by his search engine company “BlueBook.”

It’s hard not to see comparisons between Bateman’s character and, say, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, although Garland insisted the character is not based on any one technology executive. He says Bateman’s behavior was based on tech companies themselves.

“Tech companies have a way of presenting themselves as if they are your cool, hipster friend,” the director said.

“But while they’re being that, they’re also acting like a big tech company; they’re trying to sell you products, they’re reaching for your phone and writing down your contacts.”

“Ex Machina” opens on April 10