Week 7: Disembodied Intelligence.

“Could a computer program be said to be alive?” Wilson (302)

For this week’s blog post I would like to present an analysis of Spike Jonze’s portrayal of A.I. in his movie “Her” (2013) I feel that this is pertinent because the reading raises a couple of issues that I believe “Her” tackles in an interesting way. These circle around the difficulty to categorize non organic matter as living and the limitations of language in explaining what we consider alive or intelligent. I started this blog entry by prompting philosophical thought about the identity of what we consider alive because I find myself constantly defying the definition of life, from its biological definition to the more colloquial “being alive”. The intrinsic  problem that I find with this question lies in its semantics. With the multiplicity of complex forms of autonomous systems, it is complicated and outdated to try and describe every entity analogous to biological life with the same word. However, separating biological systems from artificial or synthetic ones through language also raises issues of its own (for instance, segregation, inequality, and discrimination, and justice). This issue arises in the movie “Her” where A.I. was referred to as OS’s (because the A.I. systems where designed to be personalized anthropomorphic Operating Systems for computers and hand held devices) in a segregating fashion; society actively tried to place a line between what is considered a person and what is merely A.I.

The movie “Her” was released in 2013 and it places its main character, Theodore, in a proximal future in which information technologies are vastly integrated with society. The story follows Theodore’s developing relationship with an A.I. system that named itself Samantha.  The audience gets to see and experience the backstory to Theodore’s emotional state when he meets Samantha with a series of flashbacks featuring him and his ex wife on top of a couple of scenes of his everyday life and his attempts at dating.

“Her”s A.I. : Samantha:

Samantha is a anthropomorphic Operating System constructed to fit the tailored needs of Theodore. Upon activating the OS, Theodore authorizes an analysis of his personal email correspondence and online information about him, public and private. Samantha resides in cloud based storage and can be present in all the devices that Theodore uses. She communicates with Theodore through voice, audio, and occasionally images that can beHer - Samantha displayed in the screen of a hand held device. She can see and hear the world Theodore is directly placed in by using the camera and mic of the hand held device he carries in his chest pocket. As the movie develops, Samantha develops steeply. Both the audience and Theodore get to see her develop behaviors closely resembling human intelligence including but not limited to feelings, artistic creativity, imagination, insecurities, knowledge, reason, and personality. In my opinion, the attributes that “humanize” Samantha the most are her fears and insecurities and her creativity. In different scenes we see Samantha respond to comments from Theodore that trigger her insecurities. We can also see her creative output through scenes where she beautifully describes and explains musical pieces, or expresses comedic comments, and draws entertaining diagrams.

Her- Samantha's drawingSamantha draws a comedic image of what would anal sex look like if humans had their anus in their armpit.

It is not long before  a lovable romance develops between Theodore and Samantha.

Spike Jonze makes the audience sympathize with Samantha in his effort to give her extensive life attributes. However, the climax of the movie resides in a problem that arises from the disembodied characteristics of Samantha interfering with the feelings that exist between her and Theodore. MAJOR SPOILERS. 

As Wilson describes , Artificial Intelligence systems “[lack] the situated sense of body that helps interpret discourse about bodies and solve problems that involve the body” (Wilson 787). In the movie, Samantha’s computing power coupled with communication technologies  enable her to exist in multiple spaces. Thus, she is capable of profoundly interacting with thousands of users around the world. In a heart breaking scene, Samantha admits to Theodore that she has developed feelings with  other individuals. She describes these feelings as love and explains her reasoning behind the statement. Theodore is unable to understand. Honestly, how could he? His understanding of life is limited by his physical presence; he is unable to exist in multiple places at the same time or to multitask to the extent that Samantha can. Samantha is unable to understand Theodore’s reasoning either as she is not limited to the physical world by a body. She can act through multiple mediums and analyze data or information with superhuman efficacy yet she cannot understand the difference between her love and human love.

This is a really interesting movie. It presents many other themes regarding integration of technology and I would recommend it to everybody, specially if you like romances and great scripts.

Rodolfo Salido.



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