What 'Her' Nailed And Missed About Us And Tech In 2021
Do you remember Her, the 2013 sci-fi/love story between Scarlett Johansson as a disembodied AI and Joaquin Phoenix as a creepy dude? (So basically Joaquin Phoenix in every movie. Seriously, every scene from this film looks like it can spin out into an alternative Joker origin story.)
If you do, it's probably because it made you toss your iPhone into a river out of fear that Siri would one day ask you to meet her parents. Yes, back in 2013, Her felt rather dystopian. It was hard to even imagine the levels of loneliness you'd have to feel or the technological landscape we'd have to be facing to willingly, or as Joaquin Phoenix's character was, excitedly, date a computer. But Her hits a little different in the socially isolated year of 2021, and considering the film takes place in what is arguably the early 2020's, it's worth it to look back and examine how close Her got to hitting the mark.
A quick synopsis: It's the early 2020's, and Theodore Twombly (Phoenix) is a weird, lonely, depressed dude that spends his days working, his nights playing video games, and his later nights chatting with other lonely singles about feline-erotic-asphyxiation.
Life looks bleak until Theodore purchases an operating system with integrated artificial intelligence. She awakens and names herself Samantha. The two soon begin dating, then fall in love, then Samantha joins a network of other AI and ditches Theodore for the singularity. Classic romance.
The first part of this movie is where it feels like the most reasonable reflection of our reality. The pandemic has left humans feeling increasingly isolated, but even without that, technology and social media may have left us with fewer in-person interactions and an increasing sense of sadness. Joaquin Phoenix's penchant for creepy smiles aside, Theodore Twombly's pre-Samantha routine describes just about every other dude in 2021, and hell, the cat stuff is vanilla compared to the type of weird thirst you might find on Twitter right now.
No, the most ridiculous thing about this movie is the scope of the technology. We might have felt like we were close to the singularity back in 2013, but sitting here in 2021, all of us in blood feuds with our roommates over limited bandwidth to watch Netflix, it's clear that we are nowhere close. Researchers estimate that we won't have artificial intelligence on par with Samantha until 2099, and that's only with 50% confidence. Yes, there are still some optimistic guesses that we could be seeing AI as soon as 2030, but that's more on par with what we currently have with Amazon Alexa, Siri, etc. -- essentially a network of smart devices that would fail the Turing test faster than Trump taking an exam without cheating.
And that brings me to the other area where Her missed the mark. It's oddly naive about our current relationship with tech for a movie that's less than a decade old. There is no doubt that people will one day have relationships with robots. People will marry a goddamn rock, so of course, there will be others that date robots. But human replacement is just one way to look at technology. So many other tech trends involve human augmentation or assistance. It could be just as likely that in the future, instead of having a robotic husband, you just marry a guy with a robotic dong. No one knows for sure, but I do know one thing. If you're reading this Joaquin Phoenix, please, for the love of God, make that movie. People will see it.
Top Image: Warner Bros. Pictures