There’s a new film coming out that’s bound to stir up discussion again on personal digital assistants and the future of the human to computer interface. When Apple introduced Siri a few years back, there was a huge amount of buzz about virtual agent technologies and, well, talking apps. A new film by Spike Jonze titled Her takes the Siri concept further by spinning the tale of a lonely man, Theodore, who falls in love with his personal digital assistant. Based on the Her trailer, the story revolves around an intelligent “operating system” called Samantha, a software program configured especially for Theodore based on his responses to various personal questions (are you social or antisocial?, how would you describe your relationship with your mother?, etc.).
Samantha is apparently so perfectly suited to Theodore’s personality and preferences that he quickly becomes strongly attached to ‘her.’ As someone who hasn’t been very lucky in building lasting relationships with other humans, Theodore is giddy to have a loyal companion to interact with. In fact, Samantha seems totally focused on him, his feelings, hopes, and desires. Watching the trailer, you almost get the sense that Samantha is a high tech version of Weizenbaum’s psychotherapist ELIZA chatbot.
What will the next 5 to 20 years bring us in terms of virtual agents that we interact with on a personal level? Will we all have our own, custom-fit personal digital assistant like Samantha? Will our relationships with these virtual agents augment, or replace, our relationships with other people? All this remains to be seen. Spike Jonze’s Her is an intriguing glimpse into at least one potential future. A recent article on Salon.com speculates that Her, as evidenced by the trailer, contains more sap than substance. We’ll just have to watch the movie and find out for ourselves. If nothing else, the existence of the film shows that virtual agent technologies are firmly rooted in the mainstream. What happens next is still speculation, but not for long.