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?

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