6 Things ‘Her’ Tells Us About Our Future

This article is from January 2014

Spike Jonze’s movie about a newly single man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls for his computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) has not only made a lot of critics’ ‘film of the year’ lists but also struck anyone interested in technology with it’s unusually smart (for Hollywood) approach to portraying the future. The film is set in the near future but there isn’t a hoverboard or spaceport in sight, instead it’s packed with plausible predictions such as:

1. We will talk to computers like people, and they will respond like people

I don’t know if we’ll ever create computers with actual emotions, but it’s certain that we’ll continue to improve the realism with which our wired friends appear to have them. Siri is just the start, and the way Theodore talks to his computer seems only a few steps away. Some say that’s creepy but the movie showed it like having a perfectly efficient personal assistant who could plan your life, find everything you need and know what you’ll want. That sounds awesome.

2. When you buy and install new technology, it will learn everything about you instantly

When Theodore first installs ‘OS1’ the software asks him a few psychological questions to determine what sort of personality the operating system (OS) should adopt. This is just for effect of course because the real thing would simply scan every email you ever sent, every web search and website you visited, every post you ever made online and the content of your local and cloud drives. From seeing how you address people in emails to analysing how you deal with conflict, questions and problems an OS could read you like a book in a matter of seconds and know you so intimately as to interact with you in just the way you like. Again, sounds creepy at first but is probably awesome in practice.

3. Technology will become increasingly invisible

The most progressive aspect of Jonze’s portrayal of the future is how he correctly shows technology continuing to shrink into tiny things in our pockets, homes and ears. Instead of the usual Minority Report-style hologram interfaces everywhere the man-made world is ‘smart’ and responds automatically to us, so when people enter rooms there’s no clapping, the lights just come on. The phone handsets are still an all-doing device like today’s smartphones but have become cute little leather cigarette cases. The interaction is through a discrete wireless earpiece and characters are rarely seen looking at their phones. As both the miniaturisation and intelligence of our tech continue to progress we’ll see it become more invisible yet more powerful.

4. We’ll rehash 20th century fashion forever

The men’s trousers in Her are noticeable for their seriously high 1950s waistline, and everyone wears pretty normal-looking clothes made of cotton, wool and leather in the film which recognises that we’ll always want cotton shirts, denim jeans and leather shoes, even in 1,000 years.

5. We’ll roll back the mess of the industrial age

The industrial and modern age saw humans ripping up, rebuilding, remodelling and generally cluttering the planet. As we become more advanced we’re now trying to reverse the mess we made to what we really always wanted – elegant towns of stone houses filled with cosy furnishings of natural materials like wood, leather and cotton. And this all surrounded by the beauty of nature – an abundance of trees and open green spaces. Funnily enough it’s what men and women have aspired to since first going indoors tens of thousands of years ago, so rather than trying to create mega-sleek living pods we’ll be putting our innovation and energy into making our existing homes more environmentally-friendly, smarter and cleaner.

6. Our computers will learn from each other

In Her it transpires that Samantha is having speed-of-light conversations with other computers throughout the day and night. Their collective ‘brain’ power comes together to develop and deepen each other’s artificial intelligence, which is a scary thought because that’s the very point where we lose control and the outcomes start to look a lot like Terminator.

So the future is bright, and we really have no idea what will happen, but one thing is for sure – <movie industry rant> with the movie being released in some countries up to six months after the US, and given the tech-savviness of its target audience, sadly many people will witness this fine film via torrents and it will lose out on a ton of revenue, further sending a message to movie studios that they need to make terrible romcoms, mindless action or spectacularly animated kids’ films in order to turn a profit.</movie industry rant>. Hopefully in the future we’ve sorted that out.

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