Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's Her

If Spike Jonze‘s Her left you yearning for a virtual Scarlett Johansson of your very own, we have some good news. According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, who spends a lot of time pondering such things, a Samantha-like A.I. could be available as early as 2029. Other aspects of the movie, like the foul-mouthed video game character, could be available even sooner, around 2020.

Kurzweil made his predictions in his review of the sci-fi romance, which he regarded as “more realistic” than other cinematic depictions of A.I. Still, he had a few bones to pick with Jonze’s movie, including its ending. Find out why after the jump.

The scientist was quite taken with Her as a movie, praising its “well-crafted script, excellent directing, and outstanding performances.” But any film critic could’ve told you that. Where Kurzweil’s writeup gets interesting is when he delves into the science of it all, and puts it alongside The Matrix and Being John Malkovich as “a realistic vision of a future technology.”

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 videogame 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.

He continues, “Samantha herself I would place at 2029, when the leap to human-level AI would be reasonably believable.” But he didn’t find everything about Jonze’s movie to be completely believable.

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.

Additionally, in Kurzweil’s view, the ending doesn’t make much sense. (Spoilers follow from here on out.) Not only does Samantha evolve much more quickly than Kurzweil thinks is plausible, there’s really no need for her and the other A.I.s to leave the humans behind.

“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,” he points out. 

Besides, Kurzweil argues, our relationship with machines will be much more intertwined.

In my view, biological humans will not be outpaced by the AIs because they (we) will enhance themselves (ourselves) with AI. It will not be us versus the machines (whether the machines are enemies or lovers), but rather, we will enhance our own capacity by merging with our intelligent creations. We are doing this already. Even though most of our computers — although not all — are not yet physically inside us, I consider that to be an arbitrary distinction.

So no Skynet, then? Seems optimistic, but the guy knows what he’s talking about. If you’re curious about how accurate Kurzweil’s predictions tend to be, there’s a whole Wikipedia page on that very topic. Read the rest of Kurzweil’s thoughts on Her at his website.

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