The World's Most Famous Expert on Artificial Intelligence Reviews the Science of 'Her'

The World's Most Famous Expert on Artificial Intelligence Reviews the Science of 'Her'

Feb 19, 2014

Last year famed astrophysicst Neil deGrasse Tyson made all kinds of headlines when he picked apart the obvious (to him) bad science in Gravity. A lot of people took issue with his complaints, though, that seemed to be more in line with the tone in which he delivered them (on Twitter, where individual tweets could easily be taken out of context), than the complaints themselves. Well now another scientist has taken to addressing one of 2013's most beloved science fiction films: Her.

The scientist in question is Ray Kurzweil. He may not be as immediately recognizable a personality as Tyson, but he's widely considered one of the world's leading futurists. He's dedicated much of his career to artificial intelligence, transhumanism and mankind's inexorable march toward a technological singularity (the moment AI surpases human itelligence), and he now works full time for Google on projects relating to machine learning. So, as you can imagine, he'd be mighty interested in Spike Jonze's film about a man falling in love with an artificial intelligence, especially since Jonze has already said Kurzweil's work gave him breakthroughs on how to write Her.

But nerds need no longer speculate what Kurzweil thinks of Her since he's reviewed the film on his blog. In short, he liked it ("This is a breakthrough concept in cinematic futurism in the way that The Matrix presented a realistic vision that virtual reality will ultimately be as real as, well, real reality."). In longer terms, he thinks some of the film's ideas don't add up. Here are a few examples:

I would place some of the elements in Jonze’s depiction at around 2020, give or take a couple of years, such as the diffident and insulting video game character he interacts with, and the pin-sized cameras that one can place like a freckle on one’s face. Other elements seem more like 2014, such as the flat-panel displays, notebooks and mobile devices.

Samantha herself I would place at 2029, when the leap to human-level AI would be reasonably believable. There are some incongruities, however. As I mentioned, a lot of the dramatic tension is provided by the fact that Theodore’s love interest does not have a body. But this is an unrealistic notion. It would be technically trivial in the future to provide her a virtual visual presence to match her virtual auditory presence, using, lens-mounted displays, for example, that display images onto Theodore’s retinas.

Okay, so basically, if we've developed an AI as sufficiently advanced as Samantha, then surely we've developed a way to give her a visual presence as well. Makes sense.

And here's Kurzweil's take on the ending (spoiler alert, obviously), and whether or not it would make sense from the AI's perspective to abandon their biological counterparts just because they've evolved.

But why? 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. It is clear that at the end of the movie, Samantha can support her relationship with Theodore with a trivial portion of her capacity. Samantha starts out as an administrative assistant and therapist to Theodore, and this role is still needed. So why do the AIs need to leave Theodore and Amy?  It does provide a satisfying ending for Theodore to pursue a relationship with his “real girl,” but Samantha’s explanation for this is not convincing.

Those are just a few choice selects from Kurzweil's assessment of Her. If any of the topics in the film interest you, his full review is definitely worth reading, as it goes further into what technologies would develop alongside an AI that are absent from the film, as well as the ways mankind is most likely to enhance themselves in order to coexist with an advanced, artificial intelligence.


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Categories: Geek, Sci-Fi
Tags: Her, Ray Kurzweil
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