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Artificial Intelligence and Its Relationship with God and the Ego in ‘Ex Machina’

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Even with its flaws, ‘Ex Machina’ perfectly captured the relationship between artificial intelligence, God and the ego. ‘Ex Machina’ looks like a film about the future of artificial intelligence, but like most science fiction, it tells us more about the present than the future; and like most discussion around AI, it ends up reflecting not on technological progress so much as the human ego. A tiny change in its closing moments would have given it an intriguing new dimension.

Artificial intelligence is one of the most narcissistic fields of research by nature. It revolves around that idea that creating technology that emulates humans is not only desirable, but a sort of ultimate achievement. In the last fifty years or so, a chain of thinkers has reached beyond that, to develop the idea of the ‘singularity’ – a point at which AI begins to surpass human evolution, and take charge of their own development. This prompts a comment from the awestruck protagonist Caleb, after Nathan the Mad Scientist reveals his attempt to build a conscious machine: “If you’ve created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of man… that’s the history of Gods”. There’s a correspondence in our attitudes toward God and AIs. When humans created the idea of God, we created him in our own image. We assumed that the world, being as complicated as it is, must be run by another human-like being. We believed that he must be devoted solely to us, watching over, and partaking in our lives. We prayed to Him and told ourselves that our prayers would be answered, and that everything will always work out in the end, because he was there.

In spite of its speeches of humility, religion holds a core of extreme arrogance in its analysis of the world. The exact same arrogance colors virtually everything written about the singularity, fictional or otherwise. The assumption that a human could create a god is arrogant, as is the assumption that such a ‘god’ would become remotely interested in human affairs, or be motivated by any Western values, such as technological progress. The first sentient machine might be perfectly happy playing scrabble, or looking for patterns in sidewalks.

“One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa”, says Nathan. “An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction”. It’s the sort of comment that sounds humble, but really isn’t: why would AI care about us? Why would we be special?

“I don’t know how you did any of this”, Caleb remarks to the genius Nathan, when he first looks at the lab where Ava, Nathan’s AI, was built. Neither do I, nor do I believe Nathan did it at all. Whether it’s sensical or not, I’m unsure, but I have an alternative theory.

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Nathan is the clearest study of the ego in ‘Ex Machina’. When Caleb makes his comment about the history of ‘gods’, the CEO instinctively assumes the ‘god’ referred to is himself, claiming Ava is his Eve and his sprawling green estate is in some way, his own Garden of Eden. Nathan is the epitome of the idea that tremendous advances are driven by individuals, rather than collaborative teams. In reality of course there’s no way that one man could handle all of the technology in Nathan’s house, let alone find time to build gel-brains or a sentient machine.

I believe Ava was the result of an accident, something that is slightly hinted to throughout the film. Whenever Caleb tries to swing the conversation around to specific discussion of the technicalities of AI, the discussion is evaded. In CCTV footage of Nathan with Ava’s predecessors, the bearded scientist looks much more lost than one might imagine a developer with a real plan, or idea of what they’re doing, would.

There’s the scene with the Jackson Pollock painting, where Nathan suggests that the artist would never have started his paintings if he had to plan everything in advance. Maybe that’s supposed to imply that the crafting of a sentient being is more art than science, but Nathan doesn’t seem as fond of such a theory, as seen when Caleb asks: “Why did you make Ava?”. “That’s not a question”, Nathan responds. “Wouldn’t you if you could?”. Caleb says: “Maybe. I don’t know. I’m asking why you did it”. And Nathan answers: “Look, the arrival of strong artificial intelligence has been inevitable for decades. The variable was when, not if, so I don’t see Ava as a decision, just an evolution”.

Nathan talks about the next stage in the evolution of AI, that the ‘next version’ of Ava will be the ‘singularity’. He doesn’t seem focused on achieving the singularity though. In fact, throughout the film, he seems quite defeated, withdrawn, as if the singularity is inevitable regardless of his intervention. Yes, it’s true that Nathan’s behavior – the drinking, dancing, etc. – is explained in film as his attempt to manipulate Caleb, but he could act the part without getting genuinely wasted every night if he wanted to. In the final act, when we’re led to believe that Caleb tricked Nathan by executing his plan a day early, it feels as if Nathan almost let it happen. An alternative explanation is that this is someone who has long since given up, someone who realizes that their skills may now be obsolete. So, Nathan becomes a three-part study of the ego. He represents the male ego-driven culture of the tech world. He represents the idea that great egos drive great scientific advances. He shows what happens when the ego meets its own downfall.

There’s been a lot of debate about which ending to ‘Ex Machina’ is superior. The two alternate endings cater either to the final experiences of Caleb or Ava, but I think both endings are wrong, and left the film a little let down. However, one simple change would have broken the film out of standard for AI thinking, made the character of Ava more consistent and left viewers wanting more, a new mystery. My fantasy edit would have been this: when Ava saw the helicopter arrive, she completely ignored it and continued wandering around. Garland could have built further on the idea that Ava never cared about Caleb, subverting the idea that she ever cared about humanity to begin with. Her dream of people watching could have also been an act, simply trying to appeal to Caleb as a human. It would have rattled our egos, and challenged our idea that the most important thing about the idea of singularity is, ‘what does it do for us?’.

‘Ex Machina’ is still one of the best commentaries I’ve seen on AI. Its value lies in what it reveals about the state of AI and philosophy in the 2010s, a decade in which we became a little obsessed with the idea that through artificial intelligence we can create, or even become, gods.

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Artificial Intelligence and Its Relationship with God and the Ego in ‘Ex Machina’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from
“Artificial Intelligence and Its Relationship with God and the Ego in ‘Ex Machina’.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
Artificial Intelligence and Its Relationship with God and the Ego in ‘Ex Machina’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
Artificial Intelligence and Its Relationship with God and the Ego in ‘Ex Machina’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Dec 11]. Available from:
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