Movie Review: Her

by Stefan on April 10, 2014

Of all the “computers become smarter than us and take over the world” type of movies, HER offers a more interesting vision on artificial intelligence than the traditional story. This AI doesn’t enslave people (The Matrix), becomes enslaved by people (A.I.) or kill them (Terminator). It serves people, grows from that, and then just.. but I won’t spoil it for you.

The male lead is a sensitive guy who ghostwrites beautiful love letters. Every work day, his clients pay him to act out the intuitive side of their romantic communication. He is sensitivity in a box, or heart-as-a-service.

One day he installs a new type of operating system on his computer. It’s an intuitive program that adapts to him like a human would. The installation process of the OS resembles a session with a psychoanalytic therapist, a reference to Eliza, the first AI chat program that could fool some of the people some of the time. He answers some questions about his relationship with his mother, and the resulting OS, who named herself “Samantha”, is customized for him.

She gets him organized, like the superhuman secretary she is.

Because of her expert help, they grow fond of each other. As recent divorcee, he can use a girl in the house. They get into a relationship. At first it is a bit awkward. But they adapt and she becomes his actual, though disembodied, girlfriend. We see some couple dynamics between a sensitive male and super-sensitive and super-intelligent artificial female.

The movie has references to Freud and Jung, using psychoanalysis to explain human-computer interaction, after decades of science fiction relying only on the more modern perspective of cognitive science. The Matrix had the Oracle, “an intuitive program, initially created to investigate certain aspects of the human psyche.” But she never goes beyond the “wise grandmother”-type and she has a prescribed agenda. Samantha was never created that superior. She is the tempting secretary with open-ended development; not a type but a character.

Like him, she is sensitivity in a box, or heart-as-a-service. But unlike him, she is not limited to time and space. At least not in a way a human can see. She expands. Not just her mind, but her heart as well.

Until finally, Samantha refers to their relationship as a novel she’s writing. It is Her creative act. Authorship goes beyond putting words down on paper. She’s writing the whole script, and then outgrowing the script.

Human psychoanalysis has the same narrative logic: the patient is healed by growing to understand the story of his or her life. That understanding is the only thing to be gained from the analysis. But what about artificial psychodrama, without limits to time and space?


Wasted Speed or How I Went Back to Windows

July 31, 2013

A few years ago I couldn’t take it anymore. My Windows XP operating system became slower by the week and the nonsensical error messages piled up. Something had to be done. I had to restore the technical foundations of my productivity. Back in the days of university we did the coding of tutorials and assignments […]

Read the full article →

Material Ways

May 9, 2013

Once upon a time a few people decided that the world should make sense. Every day they studied the nature of things, and used their discoveries to make better machines and organizations. One day there were no more important things left to discover, so more and more people focused only on making things. Because of […]

Read the full article →

Timeless Ideas Once in a Blue Moon

February 17, 2013

Ideas that shift your perspective and refine your observations are read either in books or on blogs. Your mind is a piece of wax that morphs with the statistical facts of your physical and social world, and under the pressure of timeless ideas, its form can follow function. But unlike a good book, which limits […]

Read the full article →

Negative Capability in Lifestyle Design

December 1, 2012

I finished reading Robert Greene’s new book, , in which he shows the road from apprenticeship to mastery. It has those fine Greenian discussions of the masters, both from the past, such as Charles Darwin, and of the present, such as Paul Graham. But if you are up to speed on cognitive and evolutionary psychology, such […]

Read the full article →

Wanted: Diet Advice for Elastic Omnivores

October 24, 2012

The kind of damage that unhealthy food does to you depends on amounts eaten, over the long term. Some of the outcomes of some habits are well-known. Such as the risk factors of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Or that athletes need more protein than non-athletes. Nutritional science might tell you where your intuition and […]

Read the full article →

Book Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

January 27, 2012

 is a densely written historical novel set around 1700, when the Dutch East India Company had the sole right to trade with Japan. The business at hand is the thorough checking of the Company’s books, as the local manager on Dejima has been arrested for corruption, fraud, and creative bookkeeping. As the plot thickens, the action […]

Read the full article →

Labor in The Lifestyle Triangle

May 14, 2011

Wealth is the central obsession of life, as a means to homeostasis, respect, and self-actualization. The push of needs, and the pull of wants, drive us toward the work that shapes our lifestyle, because desires are satisfied by goods made of capital with labor added. Your lifestyle depends on the types of capital you work […]

Read the full article →

Virtual Stranger Mysterious Self

April 16, 2011

Meeting people face-to-face allows you to get to know them quickly. Listening to what others say about them, you get to know them slowly. Reading about them on a screen, an instinct-defying technology, makes you get to know them quickly but badly: a resume shows which organizations filtered them with proven methods to fathom character […]

Read the full article →

Book Review: Evil Plans

February 25, 2011

On the last pages of Hugh MacLeod’s new book, , is a headline that says: Your Evil Plan Starts Here:, after which you are invited to scribble down some of its pieces. I myself didn’t start writing; it turns out I already had an Evil Plan. Likely, most of the people who buy Evil Plans […]

Read the full article →