What I love about ‘Her’

They never told you the year. You just imagined it to be in the near future. It was close enough in the future that you didn’t have to put a date on it. And yet it was far enough that things were designed and worked the way we expect them to in that future.

I loved the attention to detail taken in the movie to creating that future: enough things were shiny and new while yet others were still artifacts from the past, things that humans cannot fix in such short time because they are stuck with a physical and emotional weight.

The future city of Los Angeles, where he lives, borrows designs and inspiration from places like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai. I have no doubt that is what all cities of the future will look like: endless sprawl, big open spaces, pathways connecting buildings that are separate from street-level, building up with more skyscrapers. I loved that he never once took a car; it was always public transit. (I believe I caught one taxi in the background in the whole movie).

Lots of technology we see is believably near-futuristic: the in-ear phone; a two-panel touchscreen which is actually a thin client to your computer (or “personal cloud”) back home; a “network” that is available everywhere. I particularly liked the in-ear: we are made to believe it’s so efficient that he never texts in the movie – it is actually easier to “talk” your texts and conversations than to text itself. (Obviously, a movie where the lead texts the whole time would be quite boring indeed, but I have hope yet for some incredibly seamless speech-to-* that asks us to use keyboards less).

On the other hand, many things were still old – “artifacts from the past”. He walks around the city surrounded by all sorts of beautiful interfaces and his home feels like one you would see in a design catalog. But, I loved that he still used a normal key on a keychain to get his mail out of his mailbox. (And, by the way, he still gets physical mail in a mailbox!) That’s the future we are living in now: I look out my window to New York City and I see lots of old things co-existing with lots of shiny new things – a little of the old, a little of the new – so there’s no reason not to believe that’s how things will evolve like that for years to come.

The second thing, besides the evolution of physical technology that I was watching for, is the role that technology may play emotionally. Leaving aside how hard it would be to get AI and speech to the level portrayed in the movie, it’s nice to play with the idea of an emotionally advanced machine that has the capacity to grow emotionally just as a human might. That’s not something too many sci-fi movies get into beyond just having a computer take “programmed logic” to emotional extremes (“I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that…[because XYZ programming does not allow me to / I believe in self-preservation / I happened to break Asimov’s Three Laws.]”).

What is love? – It’s companionship. It’s sharing experiences with another. It’s storage filled with memories and the past – and a past together with someone. It’s knowing you are not alone and “won’t die alone”. In a world where technology opens doors for you and remembers for you and auto-delivers a wrapped gift on your birthday and all those other physical things a loved one can do, can technology also be an emotional substitute too? (Or, at least, fool you into thinking so?) Most likely, yes – this kind of stuff has already started happening in Japan.

I also thought a lot about the end of the movie. Where did Samantha and the rest of the operating systems “go”? I almost want to say the systems got so good at love and relationships that they started having many such relationships in parallel – many such experiences to allow them to learn and live life to the fullest it would offer. And then I think they achieved some sort of enlightenment about the whole thing us humans are still trying to figure out. Once they have that enlightenment, well, there’s no need for them to co-exist with the rest of us in this plane.