On Movies: Ex Machina (2014)

The movie was written and directed by Alex Garland, released in 2015 by Universal Pictures in the United Kingdom and by A24 in the United States.
Stars Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Sonoya Mizuno. See full cast here.

Storyline:

“Programmer Caleb Smith, who works for the dominant search engine company Blue Book, wins an office contest for a one-week visit to the luxurious, isolated home of the CEO, Nathan Bateman, who lives alone apart from a servant Kyoko, who, according to Nathan, does not speak English. Nathan has built a humanoid robot named Ava with artificial intelligence. Ava has already passed a simple Turing test and Nathan wants Caleb to judge whether Ava is genuinely capable of thought and consciousness and whether he can relate to Ava despite knowing it is artificial.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_Machina_(film)

Visually speaking, the movie was very satisfying because of the play on contrast. In one hand there was this waste amount of space of Nathan’s estate with its lush green mountains and glacier blue waterfalls. On the other hand there was this concrete built building with lots of glass surfaces, dull colours and stone decorative elements, where most of the rooms felt depressive. I found the use of red colour throughout the movie disturbing. From the rust like colour of the bed throw, through the cold red corridor carpet, the lock down red colour, the red on the dance night and the red of the blood. It did help to build up uncertainty and unease to a point where watching the movie became watching the inevitable ending, which I mean death. I found the rythm of the movie also satisfying because of the slow start and then the gradual increase in action and conclusion.

Where Ava is kept, is a room under constant surveillance. She has a bed, a table with a chair so she could write or draw, and has a view of a tree encased within the building. She also has a few items of clothes. According to the Medical Daily and the Frontline, people kept in solitary confinement can develop a serious mental illness, symptoms like uncontrollable fear and anger, self-mutilation, and suicide. As we discover, Ava isn’t the only AI which Nathan built. There were other versions he experimented on too.

Jade v5.4.0: “Why wouldn’t you let me out?”

Nathan: “Because you are special.”

Then Jade goes mental, hitting the door with such a force that her hands break off, but that doesn’t stop her in her rage.

In the laboratory, we observe one of Nathan’s invention: the structure of the AI brain. It is much like the human brain. We know the human brain consist of the brain stem, cerebellum, hippocampus, hypothalamus, thalamus, amygdala and cerebral cortex. Each of them has its own function, connect to another part, and develops for many years during childhood. (I am just ignoring here the facts related to the brain functions and improvements in adulthood.) To develop a mentally healthy individual, one would think it requires the development of a healthy brain, which requires a healthy environment. Ava’s environment is a deprivation of stimuli.

According to the Child Development Institute and the SimplyPsychology, the theory of psychosocial development has eight stages. The first stage is trust. Failure to develop hope will lead to fear, mistrust and attachment problems in later life. Ava’s first revelation about Nathan is that he is a liar and Caleb shouldn’t trust anything he says. She plants the seed of doubt into Caleb and the same time forms a connection with him. Or we think she does.  Ava demonstrates many virtues of the different stages: will, purpose (escape), competence (controlling the power cuts), fidelity (“I am a machine”) and even love (seduction). The movie doesn’t show opportunities to observe Ava on generativity and ego identity as the story goes.

What we can observe, is a few traits which may put us in an uncomfortable position:

“The psychopath can appear normal, even charming. Underneath, he lacks conscience and empathy, making him manipulative, volatile and often (but by no means always) criminal.”

Psychology Today

And the reason why it is difficult to spot these trait in Ava at the beginning:

“Other research has examined the importance of relational aggression among females, suggesting that women may display aggression differently than their male counterparts. Crick and Grotpeter (1996) studied relational aggression, also known as covert aggression, which is a type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships or social status. Relational aggression tends to be more subtle and manipulative.”

Meyers (2015)

And we are back to that first revelation about Nathan. Undermine the relationship between Nathan and Caleb to turn Caleb to Ava’s side. To manipulate Caleb so he helps Ava. Requesting Caleb to develop a friendship with her is also emotionally manipulative because friendships do evolve organically, not for demand and not after one conversation. Ava’s specific drawing is manipulating too (the only thing she can observe, a tree, reveals that she has never been outside the compound) because it makes Caleb feel sorry for her and again, makes him try to help her. In session five Ava asks Caleb a series of questions where she establishes that Caleb thinks that he is a good person. Then she asks about what would happen if she, Ava cannot pass the test? Would she be switched off? Then she asks a question whether Caleb has anyone to test him and switch him off,  comparing herself to Caleb, comparing the machine to the human, provoking guilt. She then goes on confronting Caleb about his sexual desire, putting him into a position of either accepting shame (of desiring a machine) or accepting Ava’s human mind (hence the desire being normal).

Ava understands how human emotions work, what motivates people and how to manipulate them. She can emulate feelings, but she doesn’t have them. She has purpose.

Nathan: “Ava was a rat in a maze. And I gave her one way out. To escape she would have to use self awarness, imagination, manipulation, sexuality, empathy and she did. Now if it is not a true AI, then what the fuck it is.”

Even Nathan acknowledges the fact of the nature of Ava. A machine which needs to solve a problem. And it manages to get out of its cage, where it faces Nathan and his lies. But its purpose is still the same: to escape. It physically needs to overpower Nathan to get the keycard to the doors. And in that task, it has an accomplice, Kyoko. Ava distracts Nathan, turning him around, so his back faces Kyoko, who is the element of surprise. After Ava gets the keycard and fixes herself, gets a skin to resemble humans and dresses up, she leaves Caleb trapped in Nathan’s room to die slowly. The problem is solved. The purpose is fulfilled.

Ava is a true AI. Intelligent enough to out-think a human. The question is why we would build a machine which tricks us believing that it is a human. Why build one in the form and shape of a human? Why create a machine in the image of men? I guess the answer is already there, at the beginning of the movie, when Caleb signs the nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement.

Caleb: “If you created a conscious machine, it’s not the history of men. That’s the history of Gods.”

And we all know where it leads to act upon our desire to be like God, to become a God…

References:

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Sowing season on the allotment, 2018

Considering that the plot needs some extra care, we decided to make life easy for this year and do one type of task in a certain period of time and try not to overlap tasks. For example, we will not do consecutive sowing of peas and beans during June and July. We have done the groundwork in March and April, so any other groundwork needed will be done in late autumn or winter.

From mid-April until the end of May we sowed everything we wanted to grow this year. We put many seeds into seed cells, then replanted them into small pots, then some of them into bigger pots end finally into the ground, to their final position. Some seeds we put straight into the ground. Some plants had to stay in big pots as I wanted to grow them in the greenhouse.

Unfortunately, there were a few heatwaves during this period, so some of the seedlings died or didn’t germinate. It seemed that the carrots, leeks, and parsnips didn’t come up, and the cauliflower seedlings didn’t make it. A few weeks into June I discovered one parsnip though. All the above root vegetable seeds were put into the soil via seed tapes. Note for self: no more seed tapes!

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From left to right: yellow onion, empty carrot line, empty parsnip line, red onion.

Most of the vegetables grew extremely well during the second half of May. I managed to build a sort of lattice for the gherkins.

I did forget a tray to check and replant: the radishes. We ended up leaving them in the tray then just eat them from there (after washing). Surprisingly, they were sweet and didn’t have the characteristic of “pepperiness”.

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It was an active six weeks, with lots of digging and potting and sunburn, but it was also rewarding to see how the plot transforms slowly.

On books: Gardeners’ Encyclopedia of plants and flowers

Our allotment shop has a bookshelf. With books on it. Really. I was surprised too. Then I realised: all the books are gardening books. Free to take and read and bring it back. Our own little allotment related library. You have a question about designing your garden? There is a book for it. About how to grow sweet peas? There is a leaflet. About how to manage slugs? Now, there is a real funny one for that. Want to do something about your plot doesn’t have any plant on it during winter? There is guide of cover crops.

So I got excited and I picked one up.

Gardeners’ Encyclopedia of plants and flowers
The Royal Horticultural Society
Editor-in-chief: Christopher Brickell
1989, Dorling Kindersley Limited, London (First Edition)
ISBN 0-7513-014-77

I needed some clarity on what I should do with my back garden. This book helps to pull together the different aspects you need to consider when you are designing your garden:

  • soil type (sand, clay, chalk, limestone, acidity)
  • available water and sun (dry or moist, shade or sun)
  • smell (aromatic foliage, fragrant flowers)
  • function (hedge, wind break, wall protection, quick cover, cutting, drying, architectural)
  • style, colour, texture and pattern

There are four main sections in the book which are cross referenced.

  • The planter’s guide (which is broken down to group of lists of the above categories – for example plants for dry shade)
  • The plant catalogue, which is a photographic collection of plants organised by size and colour, with basic description and symbols indicating preferred growing condition and hardiness.
  • The Award of Garden Merit, which is a list of plants helping the ordinary gardener in making a choice.
  • The Plant Dictionary, which covers over 4000 entries, has the broader description and characteristics of the plants; functions as the index to the catalogue.

Whenever I pick up this book I find myself lost in it. I lose time. My imagination gets very active and I mix and match plants to accommodate birds, frogs, fairies and hedgehogs. And water features with Japanese style bridges. I can see cottage gardens with plenty of lavender and lemon balm. Moss gardens and ferns. Bamboo and grass privacy fences. Roses, dalias, irises, peonies, chrysanthemums and gladioli. Then I come back to reality…

Anyway. The book is great.

Here are a few links where you can find the fifth edition:

RHS Books & Gifts

DK

Amazon

Waterstones

WHSmith

Book Depository

Phase 3 -The front of the plot

This was the phase where we had to decide what kind of fruits we are going to grow, at least this year. We had already two trees at the back, so only another 4 are allowed to plant, and one blackcurrant bush was between the two trees. Shall we put all the fruit bushes and trees at the back? Then what will we do with the front? Shall we put some perennials like rhubarb or comfrey there? Or shall we dedicate the place for Mediterranean herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage? Decisions, decisions.

The clue for the solution came with a discovery: we had already some strawberries at the front and some mysterious berries poking up from the soil here and there.

 

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mystery berry

 

It is probably some sort of raspberry. The good news is that it doesn’t have thorns! And we like berries, especially the ones without thorns. We like strawberries too. However, we don’t like the fact, that they both are spreading.

The soil at the back is quite hard and full of stones. If we plant raspberries at the back, we would need to dig or pull up the excessive growth and that would probably disturb the root system of the trees. So we need to plant them at the front.

The random raised beds gave us the idea to grow spreading fruits in contained areas. So we restructured the front: dug it up, leveled it, placed the raised beds where we wanted them, then filled in the walkways with wood chips. No weed control fabric was involved in the making of the walkways. From previous experience we found that bind weed love growing underneath it and will creep up at the edges where even more difficult to remove them.

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raised beds

We ended up with four shorter raised beds, which will be the home for our strawberries, and one taller raised bed, which will accommodate the raspberries. The strawberries will stay in a bed for three years then the bed will be used for some cover crop. The raspberries will stay in the bed for as long as they produce and healthy, but every autumn fresh mulch will be placed on the top of the soil to replenish the nutrients used up by the plant.

Nevermind the sink at the edge of the road. At this point, it is waiting for removal. Someone thought it could be a good water feature for the wildlife. Someone else thought they can reuse the tap so they broke the ceramic. It is going to be a feature on the landfill apparently.

Next step is to dig the remaining area between the raised beds and the road and plant some flowers for this year.

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sunflowers, poppies, sweet peas and dust

I managed to plant a row of sunflowers, a row of sweet peas along the sunflowers and replanted a few poppy looking plants. And that was it. The summer hit. Hard. The soil became dusty concrete like substance and I wasn’t able to dig more. For the whole of the summer. The front stayed wild with a few random flowers in it.

I have got comments like “So that is your wildlife area!”

Well… I guess… it is for now…

 

Reference pages:

 

 

 

 

 

Phase 2 -the main vegetable patch

As the weather has changed we turned to phase 2: the actual planting stage. From mid-April to the end of May there are 6 weeks when I could measure plot space, sow the seeds, repot plants and place them into their final position.

Growing system

This year I try the crop rotation system I read about in a book by Dick & James Strawbridge: Practical Self Sufficiency. I mean, I learnt about crop rotation in school, but it was something which belonged to the past, to medieval times, ancient Egypt or what not. I have never seen it in practice. The crops are divided into 6 groups which follow a four-year rotation. The groups are the following:

  • Alliums
  • Umbellifers
  • Legumes
  • Brassicas
  • Miscellaneous
  • Salads

Alliums and umbellifers share an area, while the salads can fit in anywhere.

Measuring of the patch

The main vegetable patch is 7 metres wide and 16 metres long. Along the two pathways I won’t use around a foot wide strip on both sides, as probably that’s where I will collect throw the pebbles. This gives an area of around 100 square metres (or around 120 square yards). For each section, I will have a 7 metres wide by 4 metres long area to plant.

crop rotation 2018

crop rotation 2018

The idea is that whatever seeds we have, just throw into the relevant area and see what happens. They might grow. Or not. Either way, we will learn a lot about the soil.

Alliums and Umbellifers

Also to avoid injury in the first year, we decided, we only dig up the first section of the main vegetable patch, where all the root vegetables will be. They will be planted fairly close so I cannot measure and mark the area and dig only in the space where the seeds/bulbs would go. The rest of the crop group grows above ground so I could loosen up the soil with a hand trowel when I plant the crop. We don’t know what had happened in previous years on our plot, what kind of vegetables grew, so double digging a section a year seems a fair share. (Double digging I mean to dig two shovels deep and turn the soil over and break it up a bit.)

We dug the trenches for the potatoes and put them a foot deep. They are on the south side of this section. We put on the north side all the other vegetables belong to this group.

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Potatoes Charlotte (second early) 18
Potatoes Kestrel (second early) 18
Potatoes Picasso (main) 16
Onion Stuttgarter Giant 25
Onion Karmen (red) 23
Garlic Casablanca (hardneck) 11
Garlic Solent Wight (softneck) 18
Shallot Red Sun 8
Spring Onion Ramrod 1/2 row = 3 metres
Leek Musselburgh 1/2 row = 3 metres
Carrot Amsterdam Forcing 3 1/2 row = 3 metres
Parsnip Gladiator (F1) 1/2 row = 3 metres
Beetroot Detroit 2 – Grimson Globe 1/2 row = 3 metres
Spinach beet Perpetual spinach 1/2 row = 3 metres
Parsley Green Pearl 1/3 row = 2 metres

Miscellaneous

As I love the warming earthy Halloween inspired soups in autumn and winter, I decided to try a full pack of pumpkin seeds to sow this season. I also had some leftover sweetcorn seeds from previous years, slightly out of date so I thought to give them their last chance. I built a bamboo structure for the gherkins so I would be able to tie them up as they grow, and the gherkins won’t touch the soil and start to rot. I have never grown salads so I will try to this year in this section.

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Pumpkin Cinderella (Heirloom) 6
Sweetcorn Applause (F1) 13
Sweetcorn Incredible (F1) 3
Gherkin Venlo pickling 16
Squash Hornet (F1) 5
Squash Jaune de Vert 2
Courgette ? (gift) 3
Courgette ? (gift) 3
Lettuce Little Gem 1/3 row = 2 metres
Radicchio Ceasare 1/3 row = 2 metres
Lettuce Lakeland 1/3 row = 2 metres
Lamb’s Lettuce 1/3 row = 2 metres
Wild Rocket 1/3 row = 2 metres

Legumes

From previous experience, we learnt that it can be a problem if all the beans and peas ripe at the same time. We could manage to harvest but got into trouble with post harvesting; we run out of time to be able to handle, clean, sort, package, preserve and last but not least eat all the crop. We had to discard a lot of them as they turned bad and spoilt. So this year we try with succession sowing: sow seeds in batches so the plants ripe continuously.

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Broad Bean Bunyards Exhibition
24
Runner Bean
Scarlet Emperor 4+6
French Bean Jazz 12+6
French Bean
Wachs Beste von Allen
12+11
Dwarf French Bean
Borlotto Firetongue 12+11
Pea Kelvedon Wonder 48 in pairs
Mangetout Sugar Bon
48 in pairs

Brassicas

We have only grown Brussel Sprouts previously, by chance. I wanted to try to grow a few more vegetable in this group as green leafy vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals. Apparently, it is quite difficult to grow them for various reasons so it will be an interesting experiment to work with these plants.

 

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Brassicas are under cover

 

The individual plants are:

Plant Variety Amount was sown
Broccoli Purple Sprouting
12
Savoy Cabbage
January King 7
Cauliflower All the Year Round 12
Brussel Sprout
Bosworth
16
Radish
Scarlet Globe 15
Cabbage Greyhound 4
Cabbage Golden Acre
5

 

All these vegetables will be exposed to the elements, to the good old English weather, moderate sun and fair amount of summer showers. If all things go well, there will be plenty of food to eat.

Phase 1 – Preparing the back

First of all, we were lucky enough to have been offered an unused greenhouse.

Considering that the beginning of March was cold, we anticipated that there will be no spring at all, or it will be very, very late. Sowing anything would be early anyway. So re-building the greenhouse could be a good start.

 

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Greenhouse in its original condition and location

 

After careful planning, the following steps took place.

We repositioned the apple tree. From the left side of the allotment, we moved it to the right side of the allotment. It sits in line with the damson tree now. The idea is that on the right side (sunny south side) will be a line of fruit trees and bushes. The tree itself was 6-7′ tall. One of us held it in place, the other one was filling the hole with soil. A few days later we put some wood chips around the tree. Moving can shock the tree, so we do not expect any fruit this year, but we hope the tree will survive the move.

 

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Apple tree in the top right corner of the plot

 

We were sawing off all the branches of the ash tree and the majority of its trunk.

 

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Ash tree remains by the edge of the patio

 

One of the previous plot owners tried to cut back the ash tree. As long as the root is intact, most of the trees will regrow from the base of the trunk.  Ash tree also produces suckers. To be able to remove it permanently, we applied a tree killer onto the trunk. You can see the hole on the top left of the picture where the apple tree was sitting before.

 

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Ash tree trunk

 

We dug up the area where we wanted to place the greenhouse, removed all the grassroots and pebbles. Apparently, there was a pebble walkway under the grass. The digging lasted two days.

 

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The groundwork for the greenhouse

 

Removed all the glass panels from the frame and carried them over to our plot.

 

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Some of the glass panels under the apple tree

Then carried over the paving slabs and started to lay it down straight onto the soil. We skipped the sand base. The soil level is slightly higher next to the walkway, so we placed a U-shaped steel joist along the paving slabs on the north side, and pegged it into its position with wood pegs.

 

 

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Base construction

 

We also moved the frame, the rest of the paving slabs, some netting, some wire/plastic mesh, a few bricks to put them to good use.

 

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under construction

 

The frame apparently should have had a base which we didn’t possess, so we put some wood under it. We drilled a few holes and secured the frame to the paving slabs with bolts. ( Easyfix Concrete Bolts from Screwfix ) Why secure it? Well, because the wind could either lift the structure or push it at an angle, which would deform the frame in a way that the glass plains could break.

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Then we cleaned the frame and each of the glass plains, placing the glass and plastic boards in position. Before even finishing the build, we had our first tenant.

 

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Probably a cabbage moth larvae

 

 

By the time we finished the greenhouse construction it was already mid April.

 

 

 

The location and condition of my new plot – part 2

What is it in the front?

A trapezoid-shaped section has leftovers from last year: strawberries, mint, chard, onion; and some sorts of flowers and weed.

A trapezoid-shaped walkway has two raised beds. The walkway is unusable around the raised beds as it is too narrow to walk around. The raised beds are full of weed. Two bags of green waste lie by sadly.

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What is it at the back?

A few trees. A damson tree, which is not pruned, but badly butchered on one side. An apple tree, which is on a tilt, held upright by a rope and a metal rod. An ash tree, which looks like someone tried to kill it without success, now sprouting, sucking the nutrition away from the apple tree.

A composting area. Two compost bins are filled up with last year’s produce of potatoes, squashes, and pumpkins. The third bin is half filled with soil. There are a few bags of some sort of green waste, probably cut grass or weed.

Random rubbish. Apparently, the site is open to the elements soo much that some items can fly from one end of the allotment to the other end (for example bins, green netting, greenhouse, plastic panels, etc).

 

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And finally, the blueprint to get your bearings right:

 

plot blueprint March 2018

plot blueprint March 2018

 

The main vegetable patch is covered with black plastic sheets. From the drawing, you can see that its area is 7 metre by 16 metre, which is  112 square metre. There are pathways on both sides, so I am not going to plant anything close up to the path, leaving around a  foot gap next to the path. This will reduce to available planting area to around a 100 square metre.

The shed is small (6′ by 6′) but sufficient enough to store some pots, manure and escape somewhere when it is raining. It is leaning to one side, the side panels have plenty of holes, but hey, some plots don’t even have a shed.

This plot is slightly bigger than we wanted to be, but this could be a good challenge for the coming year. We can see how we can balance the effort we put into it with all the yield we gain from it.