Love and artificial intelligence: Feelings version 2.0 in the film Her and beyond

Study, train, work, produce, earn. Faster, even faster. Study, train, work, produce, earn. This is what is awaiting us, from the time we become citizens of this world, from the time we want to start looking for our own independence and create our own life by breaking away from the beloved family shelter. Financial gain and career achievement are, for most of us, the chance to start creating our own future and an illusion of freedom. A truth told over and over again. The world is running, it is competitive and if you want to keep up and not succumb, you have to run faster than the others. The mad race of us ‘hamsters’, in this postmodern vision, however, takes us away from feelings, emotions, pain and love. They would be too much of a distraction, the risk of being swept away like a river in flood would be too great, our pursuit of the faint hope of future freedom would be too much of a risk. The feeling of love is the strongest and the one over which we have the least control; it is incompatible with the demands that today’s times make on human beings. Love today becomes narcissistic and one-way. An incompatibility arises in the management of the sentimental sphere. the film Her represents on the screen, in a sublime way, what is the possibility of an imminent future.

The film Her as a dystopia, but perhaps not too much of one
The film Her, released in 2013 and directed by Spike Jonze, starring Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix and featuring the voice of Scarlett Johansson, tells the story of a love affair between a human being and an artificial intelligence. Set in the near future, the sensitive and lonely Theodore finds himself unable to manage his emotions. The viewer immediately learns that it is not only our protagonist who is incapable of communicating and expressing his feelings, but it is the condition of the entire society in which he lives. Theodore writes letters for people who are incapable of expressing what they feel, but when it comes to himself, he becomes as incapable as his clients. One day he buys an OS1, an artificial intelligence operating system, which is modulated according to Theodore’s personality, and calls itself Samantha. Given Theodore’s introverted nature and the fact that Samantha has been programmed to match her owner’s characteristics, what seems to be an incredible relationship is born between the two. Our protagonist is convinced that he has empathized with Samantha and that he is truly understood and comprehended. The operating system is in truth only using Theodore’s corporality to experience those things for which it was not programmed and thus increase its intelligence and reality. Her love is narcissistic towards herself, because being a machine the only world that makes sense is her own because it is the most rational. Samantha evolves so much that she enters a dimension too high for our naive Theodore, forcing her to leave him. The film closes with the final scene of Theodore standing on the roof of his own building with his best friend Amy, the only person who has perhaps always understood him, but he has always been unable to relate to her beyond a simple friendship. People are always looking to the other to recompose themselves. The despotic reality outlined in the film is not so far away in the end, if the times in which we live lead us to have no time for the excessive speed that the social context requires, empathy towards others is lost, insecurities grow and man finds himself unable to cope with feelings. But could it really happen to fall into an illusion as big as the one told in the film?

Finding oneself through an external body, Herder explains how
German philosopher Herder of the 18th century, speaking of the plasticity of statues as an incarnation of humanity, posits a logical function of aesthetics. He takes up what was a determinateness of feeling, derived from the Greeks, but which he contrasts with an abstractness of modern reflection. The opposition of the aesthetic object becomes a determinacy of bodily feeling physiologically understood, the given corporeity becomes a construction of human sensory multiplicity. The movement attributed to a body, even if inorganic, is impregnated with some kind of vitalism, creating a fragmentation of the observer’s ego that is then recomposed in the mediated object. The fragmentation and physiology of the statue’s movement in its plasticity leads to an animating of the inorganic and to an identification between organic life and the phenomenon of expression. Herder introduces a primitive, one-way empathic state into the object that causes the viewer to delude himself into his own understanding. At the heart of Herder’s theory is the movement that provokes in the inanimate body a semblance of life. The film Her goes further: it removes the fact of the body but not the fact of movement and change. Samantha in her being moves and evolves, thus provoking a rupture in Theodore towards her, who loses himself in her to somehow find himself at the end of the interaction, an illusion is put in place. The film takes up Winckelmann’s model of the Greek statue as an embodiment of humanity but, in this case, without a body, a 2.0 version.

In the end, love always remains a human matter
The film is a deception that tastes like truth, and perhaps this deception is not only contained within the film, but perhaps it has already come to us or is on its way. In the end, I think, each of us is looking for the simplest and yet purest thing there is: a deep connection with another person who is able to listen and understand. Human relationships are often a matter of simple empathy. Our world moves fast, and there is less and less time for the creation of this deep connection. As one grows up and responsibilities and duties increase, the more this part of the person falters. In such a reality, in which even the Pirandine concept of the mask takes on even more importance, it is easy to fall into an illusion like the one in the film. Theodore in the end is only looking for what I would call a safe harbor in which to rest, this becomes a need, and in the waltz of deceptions it matters little, at least initially what leads you to satisfy such an intimate need. Herder’s discourse of a logical aesthetic function based on a determinacy of ‘feeling’, encapsulated within a discourse of vitalism with regard to artificial intelligence, gives us a glimpse of a not so unlikely dystopian future. In conclusion, I think we need to be aware of such a scenario, but we should not be afraid of it, and most importantly, we should not forget to love.

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