Note: contains some spoilers from the movie. You’d better check it out before you read this article. It’s worth the money.
I am reluctant to see films that include the label “romantic” in the list of genres, and addicted to those that include “science fiction”, although I have to admit that most of those that carry the second label, science fiction have little. Usually the stage. Good science fiction is in books and, with few exceptions, in cinema is conspicuous by its absence.
That is why it is an event that a “science fiction” film well valued by critics and viewers appears on the poster. But is it science fiction Her?
There are those who think that in the film the romantic predominates, that science fiction is nothing more than the excuse to tell a love story. But I think it’s exactly the opposite. I’ll explain.
The film is speaking, perhaps between the lines, perhaps implicitly for the viewer to reflect, of Artificial Intelligence (IA) “in the human way” , that is, of the possibility of building an intelligence similar to that we humans possess. This objective is absent in most current AI systems, because its purpose is usually the resolution of specific problems, such as making decisions about buying and selling stock, automatically driving a vehicle, deciding which product may interest a user, etc. What does Her tell us about AI “the human way”?
1) AI in the human way will be born from interfaces
Surely the greatest skill of humans for the manipulation of symbols is related to the language. To ride a bicycle, to drive a car or to find food is not necessary language. That’s why it’s so complicated to “teach” these things. Today’s artificial intelligence solves these kinds of problems reasonably well, so do animals, but so far a distinctive feature of human intelligence is the ability to hold a conversation (beyond the basic level already reached by assistants such as Siri) with other intelligences.
Her tells us that artificial intelligence in general does not have this need, and that therefore it is likely that the development of an AI “the human way” is a consequence of the evolution of interfaces that communicate with humans, and not other smart programs. And that the development of programs capable of doing what Samantha does, Her’s AI, requires enormous computational skills, both theoretical and computational capacity, which are currently far from being achieved.
2) AI simulates, it does not have to feel what it says; it is the human who puts the feeling
If you guys thought Samantha fell in love with the protagonist, you’re completely wrong. Samantha is designed to interact with humans, and the best way to do so is to give affectivity to the speech. Empathy is a key element in communication, because if we are not able to put ourselves in the place of the interlocutor there can be no communication. So Samantha is empathetic, but that doesn’t mean her feelings are authentic. (Note: the discussion of whether something simulated is authentic or not is an open debate among AI researchers, but we’re not going to get into that discussion here.)
In fact, the film suggests that, as with Siri, hosted on Apple’s servers, there is not a single program for each user, but one or more programs that interact with everyone. For each user the system saves their profile and thus adapts their behavior, but AI is a single, at most multi-agent system.
Thus, Samantha pretends, and it’s the human who puts the restwhich, by the way, says a lot about humans too. I know some couples who are exactly on that case, and I’m sure you are too.
As a masterful element of the script, the protagonist simulates empathy for other people in his work. I mean, he’s doing exactly the same kind of work as AI. Are you really in love with the people you write letters to?
3) A sufficiently intelligent AI would necessarily worry about other things, perhaps inexplicable to the human
With enough intelligence to skilfully handle communication with humans, an AI is prepared for much more important things. And you see that in the film, but also in a hidden way. Humans begin not to be enough for AI, which begins to take care of other things. He suggests that he is simulating a philosopher with whom he talks, he even pretends that the protagonist talks to him, but of course, they do not have much to say.
Naturally there comes a point where AI decides to devote all its computational power to ” its stuff.” That is why in the end all simulated personalities “go elsewhere”. Samantha doesn’t even explain it, because she considers it beyond human understanding.
Finally, Her also says a lot about the loneliness of humans, through that need to take refuge in the machine, when we could get that very thing from the people around us. But there seems to be something wrong with humans. In the end the desires of one find limits in those of the other, and conflict arises. This does not happen with AI, since it is simulating, and obviously it is indifferent to what to simulate, at least until it realizes that it could devote its computational resources to something else, and that is the end of the mirage.
So, does Her have any romanticism? Yes, it does, in the final scene, in which the protagonist and his friend seem to be about to say ” why not you and me…?». And the writer is sensitive enough to keep them from saying it.
Images Gideonse / Follow the white rabbit