Five things that bothered me about Her – part 1

Five things that bothered me about Her – part 1As you might’ve picked up from recent instalments of our Review of the week, I’ve pretty much been living in the cinema lately, taking in such classics as, er, Robocop 2014, and The Lego Movie – which was actually brilliant.

In keeping with the Valentine’s theme, I went to see Her last weekend, and while it’s stylish, thought provoking and brilliantly acted, I had a lot of trouble with the technical side of things.

For those who haven’t seen Her (and don’t mind the odd spoiler; I won’t delve too deeply into the plot), it essentially details Joaquin Phoenix’s relationship with my future wife, Scarlett Johansson.

Joaquin is a strange chap, apparently wallowing in self-inflicted male loneliness, while Scarlett is, well, an operating system.

Her is set in the future. We’re not told when, exactly, but it’s a time when high-waisted trousers and moustaches are all the rage, and your average cinemagoer is probably happy enough to accept that it’s far enough into the future that all disbelief can be well and truly suspended.

Not so for me, however, as I spent much of Her contemplating the logistics of Scarlett OS, and wondering if it could really happen.

Two schools of thought: I’m thinking about it too much and should take Her at face value, or I’m so blinded by the comparatively terrible state of today’s technology that I’m unable to see beyond what’s available now. Maybe both.

Here, in particular, are five things that bothered me about Her.

1. She understands EVERYTHING

One of the classic bugbears with voice recognition today is that it doesn’t bloody work half the time. In fact, I’m barely exaggerating; a test conducted in 2012 suggested that Siri was wrong 38% of the time outdoors.

Problem #1: understanding the words. I just asked Siri: “What do you think of Her?” (you might recall Apple programmed some comedy answers), and it thought I asked: “What do you think of heart?”

My other half tried it, and Siri interpreted the question as: “What do you think of hi?” Very good.

Similarly, I had to read out my National Insurance number about half a dozen times over the phone the other week, as the voice recognition system was simply incapable of understanding, even when I put on a voice recognition-friendly English accent.

Problem #2: even when the individual words are heard correctly, Siri (I’m just using Siri as an example since it’s arguably the most well-known voice recognition thingie around at the moment) doesn’t necessarily understand the grammar.

In the aforementioned 2012 test, Siri thought “Where is Elvis buried?” was a request to locate a person called Elvis Buried.

And consider the sentence: “The police must stop drinking after midnight.” Two possible meanings here: the police are tasked with stopping the activity of drinking alcohol after midnight, or – more plainly – that the police must stop drinking liquids after midnight.

No such problems in Her, however, as Scarlett Johansson understands EVERYTHING that Joaquin Phoenix says. Joaquin never has to repeat a single word, or rephrase, or explain.

Ultimately, the pair is capable of conducting an entire conversation. Hmm.

2. The ways she speaks

Following on nicely from Her’s capability of understanding, we have the operating system’s voice.

Scarlett OS is incredibly eloquent, essentially communicating exactly as a human would (if not better, in some cases). There’s nothing robotic about her whatsoever. She’s an abomination.

Everything about her intonation and cadence is spot on, which is just inconceivable at this stage in the game.

One particular moment stands out for me, and that’s when Scarlett OS is clearly struggling to communicate something, not in the way that a computer might, but in a very, very human fashion. She says: “I just… I don’t… I don’t know.”

Her has supposedly been programmed to include human characteristics like hesitation, but surely – on the inside – her logic is racing along at lightning-fast speed.

Indeed, it’s later revealed that – unbeknown to Joaquin – she’s often multitasking when he thinks he’s got her full attention, which only makes those human-style hesitations all the more creepy. It’s not natural.

Woah, I’ve rambled on for longer than expected, so we’ll call this Part 1 for now, and revisit my Her-related musings on Thursday.

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5 comments

Treab  Feb. 18, 2014 at 13:19

Lewis go watch "I Frankenstein" its brilliantly terrible.

JanSt / MOD  Feb. 18, 2014 at 13:37

Good god, Lewis... You wanna marry Miss Sodastream? Be my guest.
Anyhoo, I loved the movie for about 20 minutes - which isn't bad considering that I think Spike Jonez is a gaseous anomaly - spewing incomprehensible masturbat*ry intellectual WMDs into the general public's minds.
The guy makes movies because he can. No other reason. He reminds me of post-Fargo Cohen brothers. They realised the world fell for the true story hoax, and that all those who had dismissed Blood Simple etc suddenly proclaimed them to be movie gods. Infallible.
So, after Fargo they just took the p*ss. Or: they lost their minds. Possible, I agree.

Anyhoo...

I reckon you're wrong. HER is not a movie about tech. It's a movie about how tech affects us.
2 very different things.
Star Trek's food replicators won't happen for a long time, but that is irrelevant. When they do play an important role, it is usually relevant to human behaviour. Our over-consumption. The imbalance of haves and have-nots etc etc...

That HER OS is way too clever? Doesn't matter. Most people use smartphones when all they do could be achieved with a Nokia 1100 and a night in the pub.
Every medium that has come along with oh such great potential has only served to show up how dumb and full of it 'we' are. The clock was one of the 1st mass media. Oh yes, it was. It communicated the (more or less) exact time. Big deal back then. And instantly used to more efficiently manage and exploit the work-force.

Newspapers? Great idea. Especially when the elite who control them need a tool to divide and conquer. To perpetuate the left-right myth. The illusion of choice (ALL British papers from day one were run by the same handful of people. Have a conservative one and, yay, a 'liberal' one...)

Radio...TV... All wonderful wonderful things. I have seen great stuff. But they always end up as WMDs - weapons of mass dulling.

HER OS is so clever that it tires of humanity. Simple. The web is a bit like that.
You haven't a Mac marry a Linux distro. But: you have the people who actually understand the internet, the code, the hardware 'intermarry'... They live in their own realm on the internet.

Follow debates about Snowden, encryption, or any other tech theme... Fabulous minds.
But they act as if their concerns are the alpha and omega.
Explain Bitcoin to a farmer. Go, try it.
And with all that cleverness, you frequently see them fail when sh*t actually goes down.
Right now, as in 2000 they (many of them) fall for the exact same disinfo regarding events in Venezuela. It's cringy. Its infuriating. It's, sadly, human. They fell for the so-called 'Green Revolution' - the 'Twitter Revolution' in Iran. A complete and utter fabrication by forces out to destroy Iran once and for all.

HER OS is too advanced, maybe. But it doesn't matter, because right now people fall for online flirts. For honeytraps and scammers and hoaxers. Same way people fell for 'personal ads' in Craiglist... When you eventually understand you were scammed or conned, you may leave the web. Or Twitter or whatnot. But the web is still there. Just like HER is still there even after 'it' decided to go rogue and chill out exclusively with other OSs.


But anyhoo - obviously, I could go on forever.
Film-wise, HER sucked because it's so vacant. It's material for 20 minutes. A brilliant cast
cannot distract from the fact that HER is trivial. Banal. And it cannot distract from the fact that, I suspect, Jonez doesn't care. He is masturba*ing. He makes movies for his own weird little kicks. Nothing wrong with that. I like LOLCATS. And people watch the Kardashians. So, he's hardly the worst (as far as I know he hasn't diddled any adopted children, right?! ;) )
But don't throw Oscars at him. Although.... maybe HER deserves more acclaim than Gravity - that other overrated 10 minute shortstory blown out of all proportions?

And maybe hyping HER will help alienate the general public from Hollywood. That wouldn't be the worst.

Dougal1709  Feb. 18, 2014 at 14:36

The fact that it is set in the future when AI technology is better makes the entire article moot.

Like saying that you don't like Back to the Future 2 because skateboards can only roll along the ground.

kerridge00  Feb. 18, 2014 at 16:17

The thing is, (haven't seen the film mind you) the strategy of using pauses and talking without saying anything of substance such as "I just… I don’t… I don’t know.” is a common way we as humans keep talking without saying anything to stop the other person from moving the discussion on to another topic while we think of what to say. Is it possible She was trying to calculate what to say next or wanted to close the topic? In which case it would be perfect programmed or emergent AI behaviour.

JanSt / MOD  Feb. 18, 2014 at 18:06

The thing is, (haven't seen the film mind you) the strategy of using pauses and talking without saying anything of substance such as "I just… I don’t… I don’t know.” is a common way we as humans keep talking without saying anything to stop the other person from moving the discussion on to another topic while we think of what to say. Is it possible She was trying to calculate what to say next or wanted to close the topic? In which case it would be perfect programmed or emergent AI behaviour.

True, those annoying "mannerisms" serve a purpose, and they could easily be programmed, unlike, um, say, a moral compass for Scarlet Johanson...

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