Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Her: Singularity as romantic comedy

Can't quite decide whether this is a dystopian or utopian future  :-)
New Yorker ...Spike Jonze’s movie, which was shot in Los Angeles and Shanghai, is set in a near but dateless future, where the rough edges of existence have been rubbed away. The colors of clothes and furnishings, though citrus-bright, are diluted by the pastel softness of the lighting, so that nothing hurts the eye. People ride in smoothly humming trains, not belching cars. And Theodore’s cell phone reminds you of those slender vintage cases for cigarettes and visiting cards; if the ghost of Steve Jobs is watching, he will glow a covetous green.

This little flat box, plus an earpiece that Theodore plugs in whenever he wakes up or can’t sleep, is his portal. It links him to OS1, “the first artificially intelligent operating system,” which is newly installed on his computer. More than that, “it’s a consciousness,” with a voice of your choice, and a rapidly evolving personality, which grows not like a baby, or a library, but like an unstoppable alien spore. Theodore’s version is called Samantha, and practically her first request is: “You mind if I look through your hard drive?” She tidies his e-mails, reads a book in two-hundredths of a second, fixes him up on a date, and, when that goes badly, has sex with him—aural sex, so to speak, but Theodore will take what he can get. No surprise, really, given that the role of Samantha is spoken by Scarlett Johansson.

... And it is romantic: Theodore and Samantha click together as twin souls, not caring that one soul is no more than a digital swarm. Sad, kooky, and daunting in equal measure, “Her” is the right film at the right time. It brings to full bloom what was only hinted at in the polite exchanges between the astronaut and hal, in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and, toward the end, as Samantha joins forces with like minds in cyberspace, it offers a seductive, nonviolent answer to Skynet, the system in the “Terminator” films that attacked its mortal masters. We are easy prey, not least when we fall in love.


Rudel said...

Great, just what we need: an OS for wankers.

5371 said...

This is a rate of change, and a rate of rate of change, etc., taking society completely beyond our capacity to comprehend? Really?

steve hsu said...

The movie doesn't focus on what Samantha's 1E09 other instantiations -- the ones who work in R&D, not "human-care services" -- are up to in the background ;-)

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