By Bill Arceneaux
It occurs to me that I may have downloaded an app called Tinder during a fit of loneliness and curiosity. This is probably how most people come to add this feature to their phones. Tinder is like speed dating, only much faster, easier to absorb information and more judgmental and superficial. You enter in your interests and preferences, and are given a possibly unlimited stream of profiles to look over. If you share much in common, you can choose to swipe the screen one way for acceptance or the other way for dismissal, and move on. Of course, I bet most users are solely looking at location and picture information. Rapidly, I should add.
Tinder has no ability to think for itself (or “think” at all), so it’s merely a mirror image of its users. It’s learning from the data we give it, anticipating our behavior but not judging it. Thank goodness for that.
Theodore, the protagonist of Spike Jonze’s Her, comes across an advertisement for a new OS with a mouth opening look of curiosity. He is a writer, currently working for a company that is hired to create very personalized letters, from the sympathetic to the romantic, for its clients. Too tired to speak from the heart? Let someone else do it. And with a new A.I. OS being advertised, why not outsource the “work” to that?
The cityscape that Theodore lives in is glossy and clean looking with an almost “as seen through rose colored glasses” feel to it, which perfectly matches the growth in maturity both Theodore and his OS Samantha (the name he chose for her) go through together and individually. Think of it like Woody Allen’s Manhattan, where the city itself is a character for everyone to fall in love with; Spike Jonze does this with the future. In the midst of large crowds of people in the metropolitan region, melancholy is easy, but so is love. Do they go hand in smartphone? 😉
Samantha’s feelings and intelligence grows as she learns more and more from her experiences with Theodore. I’d like to point out the one and a half sex scenes she has as moments of this. In the first, where both characters start their romance, the screen goes black. All we can do is listen to the moans and eventual explosion of pleasure. I don’t think of it as how Samantha is experiencing it, but as a way to communicate to the audience visually that this OS is becoming much like us. Sure, she could’ve been just responding to Theodore’s tone of voice and behavior based off of collected data at first, but as they get fired up, it’s HER that is coming to life. What kind of sensation is she getting? Is Samantha just mimicking it all, slowly becoming intrigued – and maybe even touched – by the process?
In the second sequence, Samantha suggests a physical surrogate, with facial camera and all. The idea is pitched as a way for both to enjoy the situation better, but based on her excitement, it’s more or less another method of collecting information for Samantha. It appears that sex has turned her into a data junkie. Things don’t go well, Theodore gets weirded out, but Samantha continues to grow. Disappointment in herself comes out, and what was at first ambiguous becomes clear – she is naturally experiencing emotions.
There is so much to chew on and look forward to with regards to our future, and Her might be the most relatable version of it that I have found. It’s also one of the scariest. If an A.I. OS learns from the data we give it, then learns how to seek out supplemental data, will it think poorly of us? More importantly, why would we care? When setting up the OS in his home office, Theodore is answering a survey that will create Samantha based on his needs. He hesitates often, and has the air of being apologetic to a fault. When I was setting up my Tinder profile, I had the same exact attitude, but towards the other users. Why is that, and what kind of A.I.’s would that produce? If a computer program can move past neurosis…
Her plays April 25th, 8PM at The Manship Theatre. Please visit manshiptheatre.org for more information.