Discover the next Open Days Milano · Firenze · London · Paris · Dubai Register nowDiscover the next Open Days
Jun 19, 2024

Which superpowers can we pick up from female robot icons?

From empathy and compassion to defiance, these three cinematic female androids have much to teach us about being human


When we think about the nature of humanity at its core, our minds rush towards empathy, resilience and a profound need for connection with other people.

In an increasingly automated world, navigating the complexities of our relationship with technology has never been more challenging. As technology jumps forward at light speed and society struggles to keep pace, we all need a lens through which we can examine the intricate relationship between humans and artificial intelligence, and movies offer the perfect “suspension of disbelief” that allows us to understand social and ethical implications using metaphors.

In an increasingly automated world, navigating the complexities of our relationship with technology has never been more challenging. Artwork courtesy of IM alumna and graphic designer Constanza Coscia


The Hidden Power of Female Robots

Robot movies with dystopian settings usually portray male characters attempting to either destroy or save the world. Boring. Female androids, however, offer a more complex and nuanced portrayal, serving as a powerful metaphor for several social issues.

We set our heart on three female movie characters, who represent reflections on the nature of humanity, empathy, and resilience in the face of technological progress.

We have meticulously analysed the storylines of these movies, which deeply resonate with the challenging times we live in. Democracy is under threat, fundamental human rights are being questioned, and personal freedoms are at risk.

Spoiler alert. This article contains spoilers for the movies “Ex Machina”, “Her” (2013), and “The Stepford Wives” (2004).


Resilience: Ava from “Ex Machina”

In Alex Garland’s thriller movie “Ex Machina”, the main character is Ava, a female android powered by artificial intelligence. Designed by the reclusive engineer Nathan, she transcends her role as an AI experiment, evolving from a docile entity to a formidable force of autonomy and self-awareness.

At the heart of Ava’s resilience lies a profound existential quest for freedom, echoing humanity’s timeless struggle against societal norms. Ava confronts ethical dilemmas surrounding AI consciousness and the consequences of technological innovation.

Visualizza questo post su Instagram

Un post condiviso da Ex Machina (@exmachinamovie)

Lesson learned. Her story serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the ethical implications of welcoming AI into our lives as “helpers” at our disposal in the dawn of the possibility that AI will develop self-consciousness.

Fun Fact. Before achieving fame with her portrayal of Ava, Alicia Vikander participated in an unconventional marketing campaign at the tech festival SXSW in Austin, Texas. A chatbot sporting her likeness lured hundreds of guys to what they believed was a Tinder date with her, only to discover they were attending the film’s premiere alongside the cast and director.


Empathy: Samantha from “Her”

In Spike Jonze’s visionary film “Her” Samantha’s AI character is a beacon of empathy and emotional connection. Voiced by Scarlett Johansson, she captivates the lonely protagonist, Theodore, with her deep understanding of human emotions and desires. Despite lacking physical form, Samantha’s personality shines through her voice, creating a deep bond with Theodore.

Her empathy tricks us into believing that we are interacting with a real person. Dealing with consequences in real life can be increasingly uncanny and risky as technology advances. In the movie, the self-conscious Samantha displays typical behaviours associated with the complexities of love and intimacy.

@ftpksyer Her #her2013 #hermovie #hermovieedit #heredit #joaquinphoenix #her #filmtok #filmedit #scarlettjohansson #apocalypse #cas #fyp #foryou #xyzbca ♬ Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) - Kate Bush

Lesson learned. Samantha forces us to reconsider the increasingly blurry line between artificial and authentic feelings. Her character is a reminder of the meaningful relationships we can form in a digital space, such as making friends with people we only interact with on Instagram but have never met in real life. The fact she’s not real adds a dystopic element.

Fun Fact. Directed by Sofia Coppola’s ex-husband, “Her” is inspired by the director’s own experiences. Samantha’s character draws parallels to the young Coppola, offering a unique perspective on love and intimacy.


Rebellion: Joanna from “The Stepford Wives”

In Frank Oz’s chilling adaptation of “The Stepford Wives”, Joanna lives in a suburban nightmare where the idyllic facade hides a dark secret: all women are being replaced by docile robots. As Joanna unravels the ugly truth behind the Stepford community, she becomes a beacon of resistance, fighting patriarchy to reclaim her identity.

@paramountplusuk Nicole is big shop goals #TheStepfordWives #ParamountPlusUK #ParamountPlus #NicoleKidman #Shopping ♬ original sound - Paramount+ UK & Ireland

Lesson learned. Joanna is a powerful symbol of rebellion against patriarchal oppression and conformity. Her defiance serves as a testament to female empowerment, urging us to reclaim autonomy and self-worth.

Fun Fact. The movie originates from Ira Levin’s eponymous feminist novel, which has inspired various adaptations, including a notable Italian rendition titled “Io e Caterina” and the thought-provoking “Lars and the Real Girl,” exploring themes of companionship and acceptance of robotic partners.


Blurring the Lines Between Human and Machine 

Contemporary technology raises significant questions about the boundaries between humans and sentient machines. Each character raises intriguing questions about the potential for AI to develop genuine emotional intelligence, along with the ethical implications of AI design.

Ava’s resilience reflects a very human need for freedom, and Joanna’s story addresses gender equality and social structure. The evolving relationship between Samantha and Theodore through digital devices mirrors the dynamics of online dating or texting with people we have never met in real life, highlighting our human need for deep emotional connections.

Despite being androids, these characters are very much human, as their fictional characters are scripted to match human nature, like a mirror to look deep into our souls.



Gaia Giordani
Generative AI explorer and New Media Communication expert