I Just Can’t Stop Thinking About ‘Her’

I can’t stop thinking about her. I know. Of course it’s bad. I don’t normally get like this. It’s like every one of those songs mixed up with all the movies turned out to be true. I’ll be riding on the Metro and start thinking about ‘Her’. Twisting pasta around my fork during lunch and I’ll start thinking about ‘Her’ again! Worst of all, I keep talking about ‘Her’ too. After meetings I’ll ask my co-workers about ‘Her’ in the break room. Finish my beer at happy hour and it’s time to tell my friends about ‘Her’. They roll their eyes and order me another round hoping to placate me but I keep talking . . .

. . . about ‘Her’.

No, I’m not in love (although maybe I am). At least not with a woman (don’t lose hope ladies). I’m in love with a movie. You know the one. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Spike Jonze. The one where the guy falls in love with his laptop. Yes that’s the one. So when I say I can’t stop thinking about ‘Her’, I mean the movie, and since my bros are utterly tired of hearing about ‘Her’, I’ll start with you all. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about:

*Please note: Amazing’s very own Smantha Henry did a review/summary of ‘Her’ a little ways back. Please check it out here. This is not a review but rather an attempt to open up some topics for debate and get some insightful (insight not required) responses.

Art & Creation

Most SF stories I’ve ingested seem to start with one fundamental belief in terms of existence: you’re either human, or you’re not human. Then from there, the lines start getting blurry, wires started getting crossed (in some cases literally) and nobody knows up from down anymore but we’re all trying to figure out whether those designations even matter. ‘Her’ performs a similar feat but in a way which I had formerly considered impossible.

To put it simply, Samantha writes a song. Theodore and Samantha are spending a day out at the beach and everything about this scene confirms for the viewer that they’re in love. Samantha, with what amounts to nearly limitless ability to compute, and categorize the way she feels (not to mention a probably infinite lexicon of words in any language), seems to feel the moment is ineffable, and resorts to music for expression.

This is what ‘People’ do!

AIHeretofore, at least in my experience, ‘Art’ has been the limiting factor of AI. ‘Art’ and also ‘Creativity’, have been the elements which separated us from the machines! But ‘Her’ posits a world where we are no longer separated by this distinction. What now? We’ve postulated a world where the very thing that defined us, can be replicated and in all probability, superseded. After all, Samantha has none of the physical limitations we would have playing an instrument (technique etc.) and also none of the limitations we would have listening to that music and understanding it.

I pulled this quote from NPR.org:

“Although sci-fi teems with cautionary tales of machines growing smarter than humans and taking over the world, on the basis of Her, I think Jonze yearns on some level for what futurist Ray Kurzweil calls “the Singularity,” when machines will take on human characteristics and our minds will be expanded by machines.”

I think that Samantha and the other OS’s in ‘Her’ are not expanding the human mind, but skipping over it entirely. There’s no ill intent here, but it’s still a frightening thought. Immediately after this revelation, I began imagining a world where people no longer wrote music, or literature, or painted. Where the machines did all of this for us and in such a way that we were never dissatisfied. Would I even mind that all of this content was no longer created by humans? It’s weird to think about.

 We need Surrogates –

And I don’t just mean for sex, I mean for everything! In essence, we can no longer experience things as they are; we need some kind of conduit to experience life. Take the scene at the end, after the OS’s leave. Theodore climbs with Amy to the top of the building and watches the sun rise (I think it’s rising). That moment is like the first time he’s actually seeing the world. The irony here, is that he has been on vacation and traveling all over the place, seeing some amazing sites. But Samantha is with him every step of the way, viewing the world through the camera lens. Somehow it feels like Theodore is viewing the world through that same lens. Only when she is gone, does the lens disappear.

Soon we won't even need iPhones!
Soon we won’t even need iPhones!

Some days I feel this way a lot. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all of these apps seem to be conduits for others to share our experience (which I won’t lie is pretty Amazing!). However, I wonder whether or not anyone else feels a bit of a disconnect from that experience as it’s happening, because of these conduits?

Anyway, these are just some of the things ‘Her’ got me thinking about. I’d love to see some discussion in the comments here. Also, there seems to be a pretty lively discussion of the movie over on Reddit (which normally scares me). You can check it out here. If you find anything there that seems relevant to what I’ve been saying here, please comment some more!

Mostly I just love comments so lay em on me. Bye for now.

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  1. Hi James,
    Thank you for this interesting article and dissertation… it opens the question of how each of us defines our own humanity, whether through fear or wonder, whether we include or exclude, whether we are tolerant or intolerant, whether we have faith. Whether we are secure in our existence, are spiritual and believe in something larger than our physical constructs (God or an intelligent Universe)… In SF, the AI is no different metaphorically than the alien and it is interesting to see how the AI has been portrayed in books and film. Like with aliens, all too often the 2001 trope (of benevolent but incredibly misguided AI that takes things into its own hands–or is it circuits?–) is portrayed. It’s a little like the mad-scientist cliche. So, when AI is portrayed in a more beneficial light–as equals or teachers– it’s very refreshing. I direct you to my own duology (Angel of Chaos and Darwin’s Paradox), which explores the co-evolution of humanity with AI and nature. A very different story, indeed.

    1. Ooh I’ll definitely have to take a look. I’d certainly like to imagine a world in which Technology in general does not have to signal the end of ‘nature’ (as in plants, animals etc.) Or do you mean Nature as in ‘human nature’, the nature of AI, that sort of thing? I see you’ve got a website. I’ll make sure to stop by when I’m not at work (womp womp).

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