The new movie Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson, involves a recently divorced man, Theodore, who falls in love with his operating system. The OS, with an artificial intelligence and a woman’s voice, offers the troubled man emotional support and the promise that she’ll never leave him. Some good research paper topics might be to discuss some of the real and soon-to-be real technology envisioned in the film. You can revisit classic science fiction or consult recent science articles to acquire technology information for your term paper.
The intelligent operating system in Her, set in 2025, is programmed to learn, adapt, grow and evolve. It has a female voice and is called Samantha. As she continues to learn, she eventually moves toward what is called the technological singularity, a state in which artificial intelligence has become not only self-aware, but beyond the ability of human intelligence. At this time, the singularity is able to radically—for good or evil—change human civilization. In the 1984 science fiction classic Terminator, an artificial intelligence called Skynet created by the US military reached singularity, recognized human fallibility and launched a nuclear war to destroy all humans.
Is the singularity really coming, and if so, for good or ill? It’s not difficult to see what side of the debate James Barrat and Thomas Dunne, authors of the book, Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, 2014, are on. Barrat believes that a benign artificial general intelligence (AGI) like Samantha is wishful thinking. “[Barrat] makes a strong case that AGI with human-level intelligence will be developed in the next couple of decades. Once an AGI comes into existence, it will seek to improve itself in order to more effectively pursue its goals,” writes Ronald Bailey in the article, “Is Skynet Inevitable? Artificial Intelligence and Possibility of Human Extinction,” in Reason, April 2014, found on Questia.com. “At machine computation speeds, the AGI will soon bootstrap itself into becoming millions of times more intelligent than a human being.” Like Skynet, the AGI “is liable to conclude that it is vulnerable to being harmed by humans.”
On the other side of the debate about the power of artificial intelligence is blogger Erik Sofge writing for Popular Science in “Her Is The Smartest Movie About Artificial Intelligence In Years,” posted December 20, 2013. In the movie, “Samantha’s character arc does not end in world domination. … [Her] presents an AI that feels realistic, in the way that it interacts with humans, and, maybe more importantly, in its complete disinterest in conquering us,” said Sofge. The AIs are “the ultimate intellectuals—far too busy with discourse and theory to even consider something as superfluous as enslaving or supplanting their creators.”
Another technology featured in the movie Her that is not quite so dire, is voice recognition. Theodore works for a company that produces handwritten letters to loved ones. The computer uses voice recognition to transcribe words into a personalized letter. Today, Siri assists us on our iPhone, Google Glass takes voice commands, we talk to our mobile devices, and send email and text messages by voice. And don’t forget those annoying voice recognition menus you have to get through when you call customer service.
In “Where Speech Recognition Is Going,” in Technology Review, May 29, 2012, Will Knight reported on voice recognition technology in DVR recording for our televisions and navigation in our cars. Simply by speaking we can program Dragon TV, by Nuance Communications, to find and record movies we want. “Meanwhile, the Sync entertainment system in Ford automobiles already uses Nuance’s technology to let drivers pull up directions, weather information, and songs. About four million Ford cars on the road have Sync with voice recognition,” wrote Knight.
The need for artificial love
In the movie, Theodore may be on the cusp of a twenty-first century human relationship. Today, we meet and talk to friends online, through Skype and never actually meet. A sports figure recently got in the news for having an online girlfriend who was revealed to never have existed. In Japan, lonely salarymen clutch body-pillows—four-foot-long pillows imprinted with the figure of a nubile young woman. People today are more open to the idea of having a relationship with a non-human.
The philosophical question is whether humans gravitate to emotional relationships with inanimate objects because they are afraid of human contact or whether today’s advanced technology allows inanimate objects to provide intellectual and emotional stimulation that many humans don’t provide to each other.
Do you think computers will one day want to rule the world? Share your thoughts in the comments.