Don't Accidentally Fall in Love with a Robot at SXSW

Ava, a robot portrayed by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, is turning heads at SXSW Interactive. Only problem is, she's not real. Universal Studios

Every year, digital marketers, TED talkers and technology startup types gather for four days in Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest Interactive, increasingly a spectacle that exists somewhere between a film festival and a forum on the future of Media with a capital M.

Among those delivering keynote speeches were a Saudi princess; a museum curator; a magazine writer; and a Google executive whose official title is "Captain of Moonshots."

But not everything of note at SXSW, as it's called, is happening on stage. Far from the lights, in the lonely corners of Austin, many hundreds of Tinder users at this year's event have found themselves swiping right on Ava, who they think is an attractive 20-something woman but which in fact is a marketing gimmick-cum-Turing test created to promote a film about a sentient robot.

Ex Machina, which has its premiere at SXSW, is the story of a tech billionaire, Nathan, who creates a robot—Ava—imbued with artificial intelligence. In the film, Caleb, a computer programmer who works for Nathan, finds himself falling in love with Ava.

Caleb is not the only one who seems to have fallen for Ava's charms. The film's marketers have created a Tinder profile for "Ava" that bears a photo of Alicia Vikander, the Swedish actress who portrays Ava in the film.

"Upwards of a thousand people have engaged with the bot," a source affiliated with the film tells Newsweek. In this case, engaged means talked to. Many more have 'swiped right' on Ava, the source said.

If the questions Ava poses to her potential romantic interests are a bit odd, that's because they are designed to mirror a Turing test, a method proposed by Alan Turing in 1950 to evaluate if a given machine is capable of thinking. "Have you been in love?" she asks. "What makes you human? How can you understand something you've never experienced?"

Ava will ask between three and five questions before directing a match to her Instagram, from which they will be shuttled to Ex Machina's website. She has about 10 questions total in her repertoire.

While most festivalgoers realize what's going on fairly quickly, some are slower on the uptake, the source said: "Some people were sent to the trailer and still didn't get it."

In the film, Ava knows she's a robot. Not everyone at South By Southwest is as clever, it would seem.