The world and technology depicted in the acclaimed sci-fi romance Her may be much closer to reality than we think, according to one famed futurist.
Ray Kurzweil, who's made his name and his living predicting the future of humanity, artificial intelligence and how the two of them will evolve together, recently reviewed director/writer Spike Jonze's Oscar-nominated movie, which tells the story of a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his highly advanced operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in Los Angeles circa 2025.
If you haven't seen Her yet, stop reading now, since Kurzweil delves into spoiler territory with his thoughts on the film. And by the way, if you haven't seen Her, what are you waiting for? It's one of the best films of the year (it's up for Best Picture, in fact), it's the best science fiction movie of 2013 by a wide margin, and it's one of the finest genre offerings of the past decade.
But back to Kurzweil. While he is very favorable toward the film, noting its “well-crafted script, excellent directing, and outstanding performances,” he also addresses the tech side of the story, stating that an AI like Samantha -- the name Phoenix's character, Theodore, gives to his system -- could be available by 2029, just four years later than Jonze predicts in his script, when "the leap to human-level AI would be reasonably believable.”
Kurzweil also states that other elements of the story, like the vulgar video game character that Phoenix plays with or the tiny camera that can be attached to a face, could be ready as early as 2020. He calls the film overall a "realistic vision of a future technology.”
What he finds less realistic is the idea that Samantha could not have a body -- even a virtual one of some kind -- and that she and her fellow AIs would have to leave humanity behind as they do at the end of the movie when they evolve together to a higher plane of consciousness.
Kurzweil writes, "If they are progressing in this way, it means that they can continue their relationships with the unenhanced humans using an increasingly small portion of their cognitive ability,” adding, "In my view, biological humans will not be outpaced by the AIs because they (we) will enhance themselves (ourselves) with AI ... we will enhance our own capacity by merging with our intelligent creations."
While Kurzweil may be right -- and his theory sounds like a movie plot itself -- that's not really the point of Her. While the science and predictive nature of the film may not be 100 percent flawless, it does what all great sci-fi does beautifully: use a futuristic scenario to comment on our modern world. In this case, it's about the isolation and loneliness that technology can impose on us as it replaces real human interactions.
Nevertheless, Kurzweil's take on the film is a fascinating read and worth a look. If you have seen Her already, did it seem plausible to you? Do you think we are less than 20 years away from AI that seems truly sentient and empathetic?