By: Natalie Kuss
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the simulation of human intelligence in technology. From operating systems to high tech robots, there seems to be no limit to how AI can be used. As artificial intelligence continues to be programmed to adapt and mimic human behavior, society has begun to imagine what a world would be like where AI is fully incorporated into our lives. Although AI can seem like a simple path to utopia, there are many risks involved that could easily turn any technological paradise into a dystopia. This trend of hypothesizing about the possibilities of AI’s effects is illustrated by the increase in sci-fi literature and films that explore how AI can influence the creation of new worlds and the expansion of old ones through the incorporation of both utopian and dystopian elements. Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her is just one example of a film that explores the types of relationships that can form between humans and AI, which begs the question: Can AI truly replace human connection?
The idea of replacing human connection with artificial intelligence is shown in Her through the story of Theodore Twomby. The viewer follows Theodore, a writer in the midst of a messy divorce, as he falls in love with his AI operating system named Samantha. The film is set in a near-future Los Angeles where artificial intelligence has allowed for the creation of virtual assistants that complete everyday tasks with ease. The AI system itself includes an earpiece and screen so that the AI can communicate with the human. These personal assistants are programed to adapt and react to each situation, allowing them to personalize their persona based on the human they are serving. The system is described as “an intuitive entity that listens to you, understands you, and knows you” (Her). The personalization of each operating system fosters the formation of relationships between the operating system and the human using it.
Theodore’s relationship with Samantha stands in opposition to the idea that humans require bodily connections to achieve rewarding relationships. Not only does Samantha manage Theodore’s everyday tasks, such as secretarial work, but she also becomes his friend and confidant. As Theodore endures emotional trauma because of his impending divorce, Samantha helps him cope and often coaches him through difficult romantic situations, such as dating new people and signing his divorce papers. Their interactions eventually turn into a romantic relationship, which is judged intensely by Theodore’s ex-wife, Catherine. When she discovers his love for Samantha, she admits, “it does make me very sad that you can’t handle real emotions, Theodore” (Her). Her statement reflects the common perspective on AI taking the place of true human connection and its possibility of preventing real relationships from forming.
Theodore is unable to create a relationship with a human being because he allows Samantha to fill that role in his life, even though she is not alive. Although Samantha provides Theodore with companionship and love, she cannot provide him with a real connection. The utopia that Samantha creates for Theodore quickly crumbles as he realizes that he and Samantha can never truly satisfy each other. Theodore is left heartbroken and still unable to form another romantic connection due to the emotional and mental damage done by both his ex-wife and Samantha. His emotional dependency on both Samantha and Catherine proves to be Theodore’s fatal flaw in the film.
Although this incorporation of AI seems to be a utopian element within Theodore’s society, as it allows for an easier, improved life, it also separates the characters of the film from participating in actual human-to-human communication. As Theodore walks through Los Angeles, the viewer sees people in the background talking to their assistants instead of socializing with other individuals. Theodore begins to shut himself off from the world as he falls further in love with Samantha, until he is faced with her departure and must relearn how to interact. Her not only challenges the idea that humans must engage in interpersonal interactions in order to achieve happiness, but also warns of the dangers of becoming too dependent on technology for rewarding relationships.
The film warns of a future where real human connections are phased out by artificial intelligence. The deterioration of Theodore’s relationship with Samantha exemplifies how creating relationships with AI can potentially damage our ability to connect with other humans. Although AI can seem like an easy way to develop a utopian society, it can also prevent necessary relationships from forming. Without true human connection, humanity could spiral into a dystopia lacking empathy and socialization. Although Her exclusively shows Theodore’s experience with AI, the film still acts as a cautionary tale for society as a whole.
Her. Directed by Spike Jones, performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett
Johansson, Annapurna Pictures, 2013.