I decided to watch the film “Her” (2013). It takes the audience on the journey of a love story between a heartbroken man named Theodore, and his Operating System (OS1) named Samantha. Online critics have estimated “Her” to be set in the near future of 2025. In this blog post, I will explain my opinion on the impact of the technologies showcased and contrast it to our society which is only approximately 7 years away.
- What technologies are depicted in the show?
An overview of the technologies depicted in the show includes a speech to text converter, earpieces, intelligent computer operating system (ICOS), artificially intelligent operating system (AIOS), cellular devices, and holographic video games.
The first thing we learn about Theodore is he uses the speech to text converter to do his job as a letter writer. Theodore is one of the several letter writers in an office which composes poetic love letters on behalf of people. The speech to text converter is integrated to the all-in-one computer. It also types in different fonts, mimicking handwriting styles to perhaps to match the corresponding sender. In addition, this converter is smooth and flawless when identifying and typing out the words matching Theodore’s pace without any flaws.
At the end of Theodore’s work, we hear him speaking and the voice of an ICOS responds in his wireless earpiece. It is notable that the earpiece is the size of a pea. Without taking his phone out, Theodore is able to speak to the ICOS to check his email and listen to the news. We are able to see how everybody else in that society also uses the ICOS the same way as Theodore on the subway and streets. Likewise, the ICOS is able to understand exactly what Theodore is saying and their conversation flows. At night, Theodore is able to use the ICOS and earpieces and talk to people on dating sites without using his phone.
Although Theodore uses his phone and specifically the ICOS component of this device, we rarely see him actually interacting with it. The only uses in this film were to view photos and see what was wrong with Samantha when she was not responding. Otherwise, Theodore was able to access all features of his phone such as making phone calls through the ICOS’s speech recognition. Conveniently, the size of Theodore’s cell phone fits the pocket of a t-shirt and is thin. The entire front screen is a touchscreen and the back has one big camera.
Unlike the voice from ICOS, a tech company called Element Software has developed an AIOS. Theodore had purchased an AIOS and discovered Samantha, an OS1, who claims to have the capability to understand and think like a person as her interactions with Theodore develops. Samantha begins as a great comforting friend who really knows how to cheer Theodore up and support his dating life. Not only does she talk when Theodore calls for her, but she’s also able to initiate conversations. Samantha has the capability of developing a romantic interest towards Theodore, but most importantly, she is able to do that with 8316 other users.
On a happier note, Theodore enjoys playing with his holographic video game. This game is displayed without a monitor and has a huge interface. He is able to control the user without any controllers and only his finger movements. Additionally, the in-game characters can speak to Theodore using operating system voices such as Samantha’s.
- Briefly, how have the technologies changed people/business/society/government choices and behaviors?
In the film “Her”, the impacts of technologies are focused on people, business, and society. We can see from the beginning that there is a loss of human interactions. Despite the convenience of the speech to text converter, Theodore is one of many hired to write letters on behalf of people. Due to the lack of social communication, Theodore has a hard time getting over his recent divorce. Not only is this prevalent in Theodore’s life, but his close friend Amy also experiences a difficult breakup due to the poor communication Amy had with her boyfriend which led to arguments.
Devastated by his divorce, Theodore is a visibly depressed man who is desperate for a new relationship. However, being an antisocial person who talks to the ICOS everywhere he goes, his main opportunity to meet new people is through audio calls on a dating platform and in-person dates. On the other hand, the people on the dating platform are only seeking phone sex and both Theodore and his date becomes very anxious when speaking about their relationship goals due to the lack of social interactions they have on a daily basis.
The businesses take advantage of people’s insecurities of not having someone to talk to and understand them by developing the OS1. What is neat about the OS1 is that they advertise it as a personal companion that has been tailored to your personality.
Theodore turns to an OS1, Samantha, because she has been programmed to understand how to interact with Theodore based on his character. After the troubling dates, Theodore takes Samantha on dates and becomes emotionally invested in her, which eventually leads them towards a romantic relationship. Theodore even describes his experiences and ability to feel her presence cuddling with him. When Theodore introduces his relationship with Samantha to his friends Paul and Amy, they are unsurprised by the fact that Samantha is an AIOS and are happy for Theodore. They speak to her as if she was a human being, just without a body. On the contrary, Theodore’s ex-wife, Catherine, looks down on Theodore for not being able to handle “real emotions”. Despite Catherine’s negativity, we can tell that the society has become so used to communication with technology, it is has become acceptable to date an AIOS.
Theodore becomes so emotionally invested into Samantha, that one day when Samantha does not respond to him, he goes insane. After trying to troubleshoot the program on his phone and computer, he runs around the city, perhaps trying to get better signal. This reaction shows how Samantha has been able to take the place and sense of a human and shows how much Theodore values this program that can cause so much stress.
Unfortunately, at the end, it is revealed that Samantha actually serves over 8000 users, making Theodore feel like he’s been cheated on. Soon later, the businesses decide to pull the plug on the OS1 programs and Samantha leaves Theodore. Without Samantha accompanying him 24/7, Theodore turns to Amy and the movie ends.
- Overall, are the technologies portrayed in a positive, negative or neutral fashion? What evidence do you have to support this?
I believe the technologies are portrayed in a negative fashion. Focusing on the roles of Samantha and Theodore in this movie, there are distinctive positive and negative aspects to consider.
When Theodore is suffering from his divorce, his friends’ advice is to meet new people and go on dates. However, Theodore needs much more support beyond some suggestions and Samantha is able to achieve this by specifically addressing his insecurities. Due to Samantha’s programming, she knows how to make Theodore laugh, boost his confidence, and comfort him when his dates go poorly.
However, instead of going out his comfort zone and developing the skills he needs to find a new date, Theodore becomes even more invested into technology. Theodore takes her on dates, eventually becomes her boyfriend, and feels happy because it seems as if nothing can go wrong. Until Catherine meets Theodore, he does not have to face the communication problems he never fixed and refuses to accept that he cannot handle “real” relationships.
The development of technology in “Her” ultimately allows everyone to stay in their comfort zone. Cell phones have become so convenient to use that Theodore and everyone else around him are constantly communicating with their personal ICOS assistants. To further this disconnection, society attempts to feign genuinity through services such as sending letters where employees like Theodore do background research on the recipients to make the letter sound like it was written by the real person. Just like Theodore’s job to mass produces hundreds of letters, Samantha’s role is to serve thousands of lonely people seeking companionship. It is slightly hypocritical when Theodore is upset at Samantha for doing so, as Theodore also contributes to the faking of personal connections in each of his letters.
Hence, my conclusion is that although the movie portrays technology as making daily tasks more convenient and emotionally fulfilling in the short run, technology ultimately cannot replace the genuinity of humans in the long run. It is only after the OS1 is abolished that Theodore finally opens up to his close friend Amy which goes to show how there was no need for Samantha and overall, his OS1 relationship impeded his personal development.
- Would you want to live in this future? Why or why not?
No, I definitely do not want to live in this future. This is because of my value for human interactions and my fear of how isolated life would be without them. It is terrifying to think about how close we’ve come to developing AIOS programs such as Siri, Alexa in devices such as Google Home. I would not want to communicate with one digital person and become isolated from society. Although it may be nice to have a positive voice that understands your personality to always make you happy, I believe life has ups and downs, and being blindsided from the imperfections in life ruins the point of personal developments. I also 100% disagree with the ingenuine letters as depicted in the movie. These express forced and fake emotions that I believe should be abolished because of their devaluation of the significance of being sincere.