As 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.