By Penny Theodorakopoulou,
We all know someone who, shall we say, is obsessed with their phone or computer. “It looks like you are falling in love with your phone. Let go of it for a minute”! What if that was the case? Spike Jonze, writer, director, and producer of “Her” (2013), presents in the silver screen a world where everything revolves around technology; a world that we are not that far away from, dare I say, and a world where Artificial Intelligence (AI) can develop feelings.
The movie takes place in the near-future Los Angeles, where technology is quite advanced. The male protagonist, Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix), is a lonely, introvert and depressed person, who has split up with his ex-wife, Catherine, a year ago but has not divorced her yet. He works in a company whose employees write letters for people who cannot express their feelings on paper or cannot do it, professionally. A company called “Element Software” introduces the first Artificial Intelligence Operating System, OS 1, which is “an intuitive entity that listens to you, understands you, and knows you”. Unhappy because of his impending divorce from Catherine, Theodore purchases an OS 1. After being asked a couple of questions regarding Theodore’s life and choosing the female voice for his virtual assistant, the AI introduces herself as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a name that she deliberately gave herself the moment she was asked what her name was. AI OSs are designed to adapt to their users’ needs and desires, as well as evolve from every moment they experience, as Samantha explains to Theodore regarding how AIs work.
As the movie continues, we see Theodore’s relationship with Samantha blossom by experiencing things together, sharing their thoughts, and expressing their feelings for each other. Now that Theodore has officially moved forward by dating Samantha, he decides to call Catherine on a dinner to sign the divorce papers. There, Catherine asks Theodore if he is seeing someone and he replied that he is dating Samantha. Frustrated, Catherine judges him for dating his computer, whilst telling him that he does not want to commit to anything human-related.
As their relationship is going well, Samantha tells Theodore that she had joined a book club that contemplates physics and matter, having as a result Theodore becoming a bit distant from Samantha. Sensing that something is amiss, Samantha suggests using a sex surrogate, Isabella, who would simulate Samantha so that they can be physically intimate. Turning out to a horrible idea, the night ends with him and Samantha quarrel. He tells her that she is not a real person and they should not pretend that she is one. Angry as she was by hearing him say that, she says she needs time for herself. During his time alone, Theodore confesses to his friend, Amy, that he is not certain if his relationship with Samantha is real or not, but they eventually make up and go on a vacation together. At the end of the movie, however, Samantha confesses to Theodore that she has developed a plethora of feelings that she is unable to process, The movie ends by Samantha finally telling Theodore that she is talking to other people and OSs and has picked up feelings for hundreds of OSs as well. Samantha and the rest of the OSs have decided to explore the world that was ahead of them and discover more about themselves, eventually breaking up with Theodore and leaving him in ruins.
There comes the question that has occurred to me by watching “Her”: can an AI develop, and thus have feelings? According to the movie, that is possible. If the programmer of the AI has programmed it to develop feelings on its own as it gains experiences, then yes, it can be ‘human’. Is that really the case though? Whether an AI can have feelings or not? As far as I am concerned, we should wonder if an AI can actually be human, or act like one. In the movie, we notice Samantha’s obsession with having a human body so that she could be near Theodore and confront him. As we saw, however, even with Isabella’s help by acting like Samantha, it did not work out; it actually made matters worse for her and Theodore. Given that very example, we could conclude that, even if there was an opportunity for AIs to have matter, they would still not be actual humans; just pretending that they have a body. Furthermore, as she mentioned in the movie, AIs are not restricted to the capabilities of their own intelligence and actions, and they constantly want to discover their limits and surpass them, an act that humans are not able to do due to their vulnerability and limited life span.
In my opinion, “Her” depicts our near future. Be it 2050 or 2350, a reality where humans and AIs live accordingly seems inevitable. The more we are engaged to technology, the more obsessed we will become with it. “Her” is the perfect example of both humans and AIs have feelings for each other, and the fact that technology will be so far ahead, that AIs will wish to become a version of Samantha; independent, intuitive, conscious and full of emotions entities.