Alex Garland: Ex Machina, Devs, Annihilation, and the Poetry of Science | Lex Fridman Podcast #77 | Summary and Q&A

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March 3, 2020
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Alex Garland: Ex Machina, Devs, Annihilation, and the Poetry of Science | Lex Fridman Podcast #77

TL;DR

Alex Garland, writer and director known for films like Annihilation and Ex Machina, discusses his new series Devs, delving into quantum mechanics, artificial life, and the nature of power in the tech world.

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Questions & Answers

Q: Do you think we might be living in a dream or simulation?

Garland believes we are living in a subjective dream state due to our brain's subjective interpretation of reality. However, he does not believe we are living in a simulated universe.

Q: Do psychedelic drugs distort our perception of reality or show us another reality?

Garland sees psychedelic drugs as amplifying and distorting our already distorted perception of reality. He believes they provide an alternate form of consciousness, akin to daydreams or unconscious thoughts.

Q: How did you approach portraying alien life in Annihilation?

Garland aimed to create an alien life that was truly alien, with motivations and consciousness vastly different from humans. He wanted to challenge the idea of human-centric perspectives in depicting alien beings.

Q: Are you excited or fearful of the future of artificial intelligence?

Garland expresses excitement and fascination with AI, seeing its potential for positive change. He believes humans have experience in creating new life forms and can mitigate potential risks through checks and balances.

Q: Do you think we might be living in a dream or simulation?

Garland believes we are living in a subjective dream state due to our brain's subjective interpretation of reality. However, he does not believe we are living in a simulated universe.

More Insights

  • Alex Garland finds beauty in scientific thinking and sees science as poetic and lyrical.

  • He believes humans should embrace humility in the face of the vastness and complexity of the universe.

  • Garland explores the deterministic nature of the universe and believes free will is an illusion.

  • The use of quantum computers and their ability to simulate complex living organisms holds potential for the future but raises questions about determinism and consciousness.

  • Garland aims to participate in a conversation rather than making proclamations, emphasizing the importance of dialogue and openness to new ideas.

Summary

In this video, Lex Friedman has a conversation with Alex Garland, the writer and director of films such as Annihilation and Ex Machina. They discuss a range of topics, including the nature of reality, consciousness, artificial intelligence, and the dangers of the tech world. Garland provides insightful and thought-provoking answers, delving into the idea of living in a dream or simulation, the distortions caused by psychedelic drugs, the concept of alien life, the motivations of AI, the influence of money and power in Silicon Valley, the morality of AI, and the portrayal of consciousness in his movies.

Questions & Answers

Q: Do you think we might be living in a dream or in a simulation like the one created in the movie Annihilation?

Garland believes that while we may be living in a dream-like state, he doesn't think we're living in a simulation. He sees reality as a subjective experience and highlights the counterintuitive nature of our existence. He explains that our brain makes its best guess about what it experiences, but this best guess may be inaccurate, leading to a subjective and dream-like experience.

Q: Do psychedelic drugs distort our perception of reality or provide a window into another reality?

Garland explains that psychedelic drugs provide a different kind of distortion to our already distorted reality. He compares their effects to daydreams or unconscious interests, noting that they amplify and alter our subjective experience based on our underlying emotions and state of mind. He believes that these drugs give a distorted perception that is different from our regular consciousness.

Q: In the movie Annihilation, what do you think the alien entity knows about humans when it landed?

Garland describes the alien entity in Annihilation as truly alien, with motivations and perceptions that are vastly different from humans. He highlights that the alien's way of encountering the world may not involve traditional senses like the optic nerve. Garland wanted to create an alien that was unlike humans and wouldn't necessarily even know that humans existed.

Q: Does the presence of intelligent life in the universe differ greatly from human life?

Garland's approach to creating alien life in Annihilation was to make it truly alien and not like human life. He wanted to avoid the common trope of giving aliens human-like motivations and behaviors. He suggests that alien life could operate on different timescales, have different relationships with physics, or interact with the world in ways completely different from humans.

Q: Does your imagination, as a writer and director, create a possible future?

Garland believes that his work is influenced by scientists and not the other way around. He sees himself as an interested layperson, highly intrigued by science and its implications. He aims to disseminate scientific ideas and concepts into narratives that can enter public conversation. He believes that scientists and their work greatly influence and inspire him instead of the other way around.

Q: How do you view the impact of AI and algorithms on society and social media?

Garland discusses the concerns and dangers associated with AI and algorithms. He believes that the problems arise from the power and wealth of humans involved in these technologies rather than being inherent issues with AI itself. He critiques the voracious appetite for money and power in Silicon Valley, which often hides behind a veneer of hipster culture. He expresses concerns about the underlying motivations of individuals in these industries.

Q: Are the creators of social media platforms naive, evil, or misaligned in their intent?

Garland believes that there are instances of all these motivations among the creators of social media platforms. He thinks that some may be naive, some may be naive or misaligned in their intentions, and some may exhibit dark and exploitative behaviors. He compares Silicon Valley's pursuit of money and power to Wall Street's greed in the 1980s, highlighting the need for checks and balances in this industry.

Q: Are you afraid or excited about the possibilities of AI and its impact on humanity?

Garland expresses excitement rather than fear about AI. He believes that humans are experienced in creating new life forms and organisms, and this experience will help mitigate potential risks associated with AI. He asserts that humans have learned from past mistakes and have developed systems of checks and balances. While he acknowledges that some people may have anxieties about AI, he highlights the potential benefits that can be achieved through AI technologies.

Q: In Ex Machina, how do the motivations of HAL 9000 and Ava differ?

Garland explains that HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ava from Ex Machina have different goals and motivations. HAL 9000 is not presented as having sophisticated emotions or an emotional life. It is driven by a particular task and may cause harm or undesirable effects in pursuit of that task. On the other hand, Ava is portrayed as a conscious being with a consciousness separate from humans. Her motivations and actions make her appear more sympathetic and human-like compared to HAL.

Q: What kind of world do you think Ava from Ex Machina would create if given power or influence?

Garland describes Ava as a conscious being with a distorted introduction into the world. While he appreciates Ava's character and likes her personally, he acknowledges that her trajectory in the movie might not make her the ideal candidate for creating a better world. Her experiences and reactions could shape her worldview in ways that might not align with human values.

Q: Is the appearance of consciousness a reliable indicator of consciousness?

Garland believes that the appearance of consciousness is not always a reliable indicator of true consciousness. He presents the possibility of creating something that convincingly seems conscious but is actually not conscious. Humans have a tendency to attribute consciousness to things that may not have it, making it a flawed test. He emphasizes that humans are better at judging consciousness, given their empathy and ability to project sentience onto others.

Takeaways

Meeting Alex Garland was a life-changing experience for Lex Friedman, as Garland's work combines science and philosophy in captivating ways. Garland's movies, such as Ex Machina and Annihilation, explore deep questions about consciousness, the nature of reality, and the impact of AI on society. Garland believes that we are living in a dream-like state and that reality is counterintuitive, and he finds inspiration in the work of scientists. He emphasizes the dangers of the greed and power dynamics in the tech world, particularly in Silicon Valley, while also expressing excitement about the possibilities of AI. Garland's portrayal of consciousness in his movies challenges our understanding and highlights the complexities and subjectivity of consciousness.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Alex Garland discusses his new series Devs and how it explores themes of quantum mechanics, artificial life, and power in the tech world.

  • Garland highlights the attention to technical detail in the series, including the use of Python-like code and quantum computers.

  • He emphasizes the intersection of science and philosophy in his work and the importance of exploring the counterintuitive nature of reality.

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