Sean Seepersad, Ph.D.

Sean Seepersad Ph.D.

Web of Loneliness

Is It Possible to Build the Perfect Woman or Man?

A review of the movie, Her

Posted Jun 18, 2014

Symbol of the OS program in the movie Her
Warning: spoilers are ahead! It was with much excitement when I received my copy of "Her" from my mailbox. I had read reviews when the movie first came out about how the movie embodied the idea of loneliness. Indeed the premise seemed intriguing enough, a solitary male finds solace in a computer program that emulated the personality of woman and falls in love with it. One could almost immediately assume that the underlying message of the movie had something to do with the way that technology is changing the way we think about relationships and probably how this technology was cheapening our sense of relationships as well. I was not ready to draw that conclusion as yet at the start movie and wanted to see how it unfolded. 

Let me just say this at the outset, undeniably the acting in this movie was spot on. Scarlett Johansson's and Joaquin Phoenix's performances were phenomenal within the confines of the script. I think Scarlett did such a good job of making a faceless entity have a real presence on the screen. 

But that's about where my fascination with the movie ended. I thought initially that the movie would somehow portray the limitations of technology in trying to replicate a human personality. But contrary to that thinking, the personality displayed by the computer program "Samantha," appeared to be very human, and that strikes you right from the start after she was installed and starts working. Apparently these OSes (as they are referred to in the movie) are very much autonomous computer programs, capable of acting in any which way they wanted to as they evolved. Immediately, my mind asked – why would someone want to buy a program that could eventually not be helpful to you? It's like buying a watch that at some point may decide if it wants to tell you the time, when it wants to tell you the time, and if it wants to tell you the right time. It's true that a lonely person might be drawn into having a computer program imitate a human relationship, but at the end of the day, that lonely person wants a computer program that would be focused on their needs and desires and would not eventually betray them at some point. Or at least that's what I think.

In any case, these independently evolving OS'es take on whatever personality their environment exposes them to. In the case of Samantha and Theodore (Samantha’s “owner”), Samantha evolves into what can only be described as the "perfect" woman for Theodore. She's compassionate and understanding, great listener, a sense of humor, curious, etc. Apparently, she is better than any other human Theodore ever met. This leaves me thinking, could humans really create a computer program that is capable of molding itself so well to the personality of another person? Rather than suggesting that somehow technology would come up short in the real world, this movie seems to advocate the opposite: that technology can, in fact, do much better than your real, ordinary person. Something does not feel right about that intuitively. I find it hard to believe that we could create something that can so perfectly match another person's wants, needs, and desires. Not because we will not one day become capable of creating a truly great artificial intelligence (AI) that perhaps may even be sentient, but rather some human beings as just not ready for relationships regardless of how well you program the AI. The movie partly suggested this after Theodore meets his ex-wife, but that quickly fades away and Samantha is once again able to capture all of Theodore's love and attention.

I think the idea is intriguing, the ability to custom create partners that would satisfy all of our wants and desires. When we are lonely, it seems we become preoccupied with finding someone to satisfy all our wants and desires, a Samantha, if you will. It reminds me of the mail/Internet order bride business, where men find foreign brides with more "traditional" values to marry them. Also, just recently I came across this article discussing sexbots and the drive to make them more human-like with various personalities. I believe the underlying motivation is the same, find someone who will take care of all of their emotional (including sexual) needs and desires. If, in searching out a relationship, the goal is to find an emotional prostitute, ultimately, the relationship is not only going to fail, it will become very emotionally unfulfilling. Relationships are about inter-dependence, not only about our own needs and desires, but also genuinely caring about the other person's needs and desires as well. In a real world situation, Theodore, would have demanded more and more from Samantha, who would have simply been unable to provide for everything that he needed. Whether it is a real person, a sexbot, or a computer program, you cannot custom create the perfect person right at the start of a relationship. To suggest otherwise, is to create an illusion of perfection that will eventually disappear.

People often develop an unhealthy dependence on others to try to fill a void that is created through past hurtful experiences. Early experiences of rejection from parents and peers for example, may lead one to try to find a partner that would be everything their early childhood experiences was not. The fact of the matter though, is that the only person that can fill that void is the person with the void. That person needs to resolve those crises, heal that hurt, and learn to love themselves enough to be able to love someone else. No one can ever supply enough love to make that person love themselves, not even a “Samantha.” To find the perfect person, you have to be the perfect person.

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