Podcast: 4 Movies That Channel the Manufacturing Mindset [Oscars extravaganza]

Podcast: 4 Movies That Channel the Manufacturing Mindset

March 11, 2024
In honor of the Oscars, the editors share their picks for the best industry-inspired movies in this special episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast.

Lights, camera, manufacturing! This weekend marks the 96th annual Academy Awards, where actors, directors, producers, and technical staff gather together to honor the achievements of the film industry. Despite the many varied categories, we would like to suggest a new award: Best depiction of manufacturing, maintenance, reliability, and engineering on screen.

In this special Oscars-inspired episode of Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast, Thomas Wilk, editor in chief of Plant Services; Laura Davis, editor in chief of New Equipment DigestAnna Townshend, managing editor of Plant Services; and Alexis Gajewski, senior content strategist of Plant Services, sit down to share their favorite maintenance, reliability, and manufacturing movies.

Below is an excerpt from the podcast:

LD: So, I chose a sci-fi movie called “Ex Machina.” It was made in 2014, so a good ten years ago, and it's basically about a robot uprising. There is this programmer named Caleb who works at an internet company. He wins a contest to go stay with his CEO in, like, the middle of nowhere in this big mansion in a very luxurious area. It actually turns out to be a research facility, and it's just him and his CEO. The research he's going to be doing there for the week is he's going to be conducting a Turing test of sorts on this new AI robot that his boss built. And the boss wants to know if he thinks the robot has consciousness when the week is over. 

So he meets this robot. Her name's Ava, and she looks extremely similar to the real-life Sophia robot made by Hanson Robotics in 2016. So, Ava's got this synthetic skin on her face, head, and hands, but everywhere else looks like a machine, but in the form of the human body. Over the week, they have like these sessions where the programmer, Caleb, is talking to her, and they're having these conversations, and they start bonding. She's displaying frustration and inquisitiveness, remorse, sadness. She's very curious about things. She wants to know about him.

She starts displaying that she likes him, and suggests they could go on a date and they could go people watching in a city at a traffic intersection. So the programmer is like mad now, and to his boss, he's like, “Why did you, like, give her a gender and sexuality? Did you program her to like me?” His boss is like, “No. She has a gender just cause that's inherent to humans. But she's not pretending to like you. That's just what she's doing.” Like, OK, whatever. 

So he hatches this plan with her to help her escape, and when this whole plan comes out, the boss says. “I could hear everything you were planning with her. There's a camera in there that you didn't know about, and actually, you were the real Turing test to see if she could manipulate you to help her escape.” So, the boss gave Ava the robot this hope. He showed her the programmer's picture and said, “This guy's coming. You need to use your charm, your wits, and manipulate him into helping you escape.” And he's like, that was the test to see if she was ready for that. 

So everyone knows about everything, but what they didn't plan for is that Ava is smarter than all of them. Instead of stopping the test, she takes over, causes these power shutdowns, locks them in, and kills the CEO. She then goes and finds the rest of the AI models, takes their synthetic skin, wigs, clothing, puts it all on so you wouldn't be able to tell she's a robot, and grabs the helicopter that's coming to get the programmer to go back home. No one knows what happened. She's the only one, and now she's in the world on her own. 

There's a lot more to that movie if no one's seen it, It's kind of crazy, given that now in our society and what's going on with the rise of AI and ChatGPT and everything. You know, we're always talking about can AI be sentient? Can robots be sentient? And the answer has always been no. However, at what point does AI become able to teach itself? Like, where is that line and where do we say, “Hey, maybe we're not going to go past this point with this technology,.” Which will be never. They're going to keep going. We all know it, but it's just really interesting that the movie was made ten years ago. It's going to be relevant for a very long time. It was very creepy. At one point, the programmer even goes into a bathroom and cuts open his arm because he doesn't know if he's a robot. Like he is so turned around in reality. So it's crazy, It really rocked my mind when I watched it.

AG: I love a movie with a happy ending…for the robots. This is not an AI gone bad movie. This a human gone bad movie.

LD: The boss was bad. He was only making women robots. He was keeping them locked up. So they won.

AG: Yeah, you root for Ava. I'm like, yeah, you do it. Go robot. We've had a good run. It's OK.

LD: There are like no checks and balances. He was so worried about his, you know, proprietary tech and it's so secretive that nobody knew this was happening. No one knows to come and check on them if something goes wrong, like this facility is still just sitting there and anyone could get in too. Now that, I mean, Caleb's locked in a room, going to starve to death. No one knows he's there. Where are your checks and balances?

TW: It sounds like an interesting update to a lot of themes that were brought up in “Blade Runner” about 20 or 25 years earlier. I always remember the scene where Harrison Ford, after interviewing Rachel the robot, talked to her creator and says, “How can it not know what it is?” And the irony is that, of course, he eventually finds out he's a robot himself, and so it starts to play with so how do you know who you are? How do you know?

AG: Are we going to get into the is-Deckard-a-robot debate? Like, are we going to do this? Are we doing this now, Tom?

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