I can’t wait to see Her.
Opening in limited release next week (and already getting rave reviews and year-end awards), Spike Jonze’s newest movie is set in the “near future” and stars Joaquin Phoenix as a lonely man who falls in love with a Siri-like A.I. system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She’s specifically designed to meet his every emotional need, and they hit it off right from the start. Here, watch the trailer. It’s adorable.
At first, this premise seems kind of preposterous. But thinking about it, how crazy is it, really? I’m not even sure whether we can even say this movie falls in the realm of science-fiction. IMDb doesn’t categorize it that way; on the site, Her is listed as comedy, drama and romance. While it may not be science-fiction, it’s not quite reality, either. But is it a sign of things to come? Are we about to start falling in love with artificial intelligence?
We obviously have A.I. we can interact with. Siri’s been around for a few years, but no one’s falling in love with her (even if her customer satisfaction is on the rise). Google Now’s, er, voice embodiment (?) has even less personality than Siri. Neither are as warm and inviting as Samantha is, right off the bat. But they’re not designed that way, and we can’t expect that of them.
But is the reality that Her depicts really that far off? Our phones already know where we’re going, what we’re doing, when we’re doing it, who we’re friends with, what kind of music we like, what kinds of games we like to play, what time we wake up, what we like to shop for … chances are there are few (if any) people who know as much about you as your phone does. Everything you need for a best friend (or love interest) is there in your phone; all that’s missing is the interface. That’s where Samantha would come in.
That’s sort of what Google Now does for us already. Google routinely updates its personal assistant service with new features and new tie-ins to other personal information, making our lives easier. But it doesn’t do it with the flair or personal touch that a real personal assistant would use, and we’re certainly not going to fall in love with a computer just because it knows the quickest route home after a long day at work.
Adding a layer of personality to a system that knows your itinerary is a natural progression. At some point, Google Now and Siri will be able to help us out with every task we need to do. What do you add then? Why not add personality? (Personality goes a long way.) That type of shift makes sense to me. If it happened, I don’t know that we’d see people fall in love with it, but why not? It’s sort of like online dating, except there’s no chance you’ll ever meet the other person in real life. (Not until this consciousness is projected into a robot, anyway.)
But what if things go too far? What if these A.I. systems only get close to us to learn our greatest weaknesses? What if this new breed of A.I. gained our trust, love and affection, only to become sentient, get tired of being subservient and decide to conquer us in our most desperate moment?
“He thought she loved him. He was wrong. Scarlett Johansson is HER.”