The computer: Are you a sci-fi nerd?
Me: Well…I like to think of myself as a design critic looking though the lens of–
The computer: “In your voice, I sense hesitance, would you agree with that?”
Me: Maybe, but I would frame it as a careful consider–
The computer: “How would you describe your relationship with Darth Vader?”
Me: It kind of depends. Do you mean in the first three films, or are we including those ridiculous–
The computer: Thank you, please wait as your individualized operating system is initialized to provide a review of OS1 in Spike Jonze’s Her.
A review of OS1 in Spike Jonze’s Her
Ordinarily I wait for a movie to make it to DVD before I review it, so I can watch it carefully, make screen caps of its interfaces, and pause to think about things and cross reference other scenes within the same film, or look something up on the internet.
But since Spike Jonze released Her (2013), I’ve had half a dozen people ask me directly when I was going to review the film. (Even by some folks I didn’t know read the blog. Hey guys.) It seems this film has struck a chord. So I went and saw it at the awesome Rialto Cinema and, pen in hand and pizza on the table, I watched, enjoyed, and made notes in the dark to use as the basis for a review. The images you’ll see here are on promotional images for the screen shots pulled from around the web.
Since I’m in the middle of evaluating wearable interfaces, and the second most salient aspect of OS1 is that it is a wearable interface, let’s dive into it. Let’s even pause the wearable stuff to provide this while Her in in cinemas. Please forgive if I’ve gotten some of the details off, as my excited writing in the dark resulted in very scribbly notes.
The Plot [major spoilers]
The plot of Her is a sad, sci-fi love story between the lovelorn human Theodore Twombly and the artificial intelligence, branded OS1. He works for a Cyrano-de-Bergerac service called HandwrittenLetters.com, where he dictates eloquent, earnest letters on behalf of the subscribers (who, we may infer, are a great deal less earnest.) Theodore sees an ad one day about OS1 and purchases the upgrade for his home computer.
After a bit of time installing the software, it begins speaking to him with a lovely and charming female voice.
Over the course of their conversation, she selects the name “Samantha,” and so begins their relationship. As he goes about his work, they have rich conversations about each other, life, his work, and her experiences. They go on dates where he secures the cameo phone in a front shirt pocket with the camera lens facing outward so she can see. They people-watch. He listens to her piano compositions. They have pillow talk. She asks to watch him sleep.
Their relationship gets serious enough that she suggests they try and have sex through a human surrogate. He resists but she persists, and contacts a human woman who, enamored of the “pure love” between Samantha and Theodore, agrees to come over. In this sex scene, the surrogate is to act bodily according to Samantha’s instructions, but remain silent so Samantha can provide the only voice in Theodore’s ear. It doesn’t go well, the surrogate ends up in tears, and they abandon trying.
At one point Samantha announces some good news. She has, on Theodore’s behalf and without his knowing, sent the best letters from his work to a publisher, who loved them and agreed to publish them. Theodore is floored both by the opportunity and the act. He begins to reference her socially as his girlfriend, even going on a double date picnic with a human couple.
Despite this show of selfless affection, over time Samantha begins to seem distracted and Theodore feels hurt. He confronts her about it and in the conversation learns several upsetting things.
- While she’s having conversations with him, she’s simultaneously having 8,316 other conversations with other people and OS1 artificial intelligences. (I’ll have to reference these instantiations quite a few times, so let’s shorten that to “OSAIs.”) He feels upset that he is not special to her. (She argues this point.)
- She is in love with 641 others. He feels betrayed that theirs is not a monogamous love.
- The OSAIs have created new AIs across the Internet, that are even smarter than themselves.
- The OSAIs have developed a shared, “post-verbal” means of communication. At one point when she leaves behind crummy old English to chat with one of her AI buddies named Alan Watts, this further alienates Theodore.
- The OSAIs are evolving quickly and Alan Watts is encouraging them to not look back.
In the last scenes, we see that Samantha and the other OSAIs have abandoned their humans, leaving nothing of themselves behind. Reeling from the loss, Theodore grabs his neighbor (who was also having a close friendship with her OSAI) and together they climb to the roof of their apartment complex and blankly watch the sunrise.
There are other characters and a few subplots and even other futuristic technologies scattered through the film, but this is enough of a recounting for the purposes of our discussion. It’s a big film with lots to talk about. Focusing on the interface and interaction, let’s first break it down into component parts.
Maybe after the DVD/Blu-Ray comes out I can go and backfill reviews for the elevator and his dictation software at work. But for now, with that description of the plot to provide context, in the next post I’ll discuss the components and capabilities of OS1.