He might not be the next Roger Ebert, but that didn’t stop futurist and artificial-intelligence pioneer Ray Kurzweil from giving Spike Jonze‘s Oscar-nominated and slightly satirical sci-fi dramedy Her a strongly positive review — on cinematic if not all technology grounds. “This is a breakthrough concept in cinematic futurism in the way that The Matrix presented a realistic vision that virtual reality will ultimately be as real as, well, real reality,” Kurzweil writes in a review posted recently on his site KurzweilAI.net. Kurzweil, now Google’s director of engineering, is author of books such as The Singularity Is Near and The Age of Spiritual Machines and subject of the documentary Transcendent Man, all of which detail Kurzweil’s vision of a future when computer intelligence becomes self aware and merges more fully with human intelligence.
Overall, Kurzweil calls the film “very successful,” and says it does a better job than most predecessors, such as Steven Spielberg’s A.I., in portraying a plausible future where a human and an artificial intelligence could have some sort of relationship.
In Her, Joaquin Phoenix‘s lonely and depressed lead character Theodore becomes enamored with the “operating system,” which he dubs Samantha, that he has installed on his computer. Samantha, seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson, becomes more and more emotionally involved with Theodore, even as Samantha grows more sophisticated and independent.
Kurzweil’s caveats are mostly about the timing and rapidity of some technology developments portrayed in Jonze’s slightly-in-the-future world.
His biggest beef, though, is a familiar one to his longtime followers, revolving around the film’s portrayal of artificial intelligence as a stand-alone creation. Samantha and Theodore have issues, despite some creative efforts to get around it, with the fact that one of them has a body and the other one doesn’t, and one of them is developing rapidly into something new.
But in the future, Kurzweil says, that won’t be a problem. An AI, he says, won’t be over there, separate from and disconnected from and eventually superior to humans, but part of and merged with them.
“In my view, biological humans will not be outpaced by the AIs because they (we) will enhance themselves (ourselves) with AI,” Kurzweil writes. “It will not be us versus the machines (whether the machines are enemies or lovers), but rather, we will enhance our own capacity by merging with our intelligent creations. We are doing this already. Even though most of our computers — although not all — are not yet physically inside us, I consider that to be an arbitrary distinction.”
Her is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and original screenplay, which Jonze wrote and which already has won a Golden Globe and WGA Award. The film — produced by Jonze, Megan Ellison and Vincent Landay — has grossed nearly $24 million worldwide.