Personality Amplification: HER vs. TRANSCENDENCE

The Wall Street Journal examines HER, and finds that the Artificial Intelligence community is intrigued by the optimistic view of the future presented in the Spike Jonze film. TRANSCENDENCE, coming soon, may offer a different perspective. her-joaquin-phoenix-spike-jonze transcendence-full-trailer-johnny-depp

Above: A rosy Joaquin Phoenix. Below: A darker Johnny Depp.

“Exploring personality amplification through technology is a key concept” in HER, writes Robin Kawakami in WSJ. “In the same way that various gadgets enhance our abilities—whether it’s finding our way around with a GPS or moving objects with machines—an AI might enable us to accomplish certain goals, just as Samantha nudged Theodore toward a book contract.”

The article quotes Stephen Wolfram, “whose Wolfram Alpha drives the artificial intelligence-like component of Siri on the iPhone, thinks that an operating system like Samantha as depicted in the film is not only possible, the technology behind it isn’t that far off… ‘What could you achieve by having an emotional connection to a sophisticated, AI-like thing?’ he said. ‘Can you be the best instance of what you intended to be?'”In this future view, technology is here to enhance us.

Erik Sofge, writing in Popular Science, finds this optimistic vision refreshing: “even if it wasn’t intended as a counterpoint to the collective upswing in robophobia, Her does the job nicely. It presents an AI that feels realistic, in the way that it interacts with humans, and, maybe more importantly, in its complete disinterest in conquering us.” Sofge believes that “robot-related hysteria is on the rise,” pointing to developments such as Google’s recent purchases of robotics and AI companies.

Google, which spends nearly $8 billion per year on research and development, announced today it has acquired DeepMind, an artificial intelligence firm in the UK.  This follows Google’s purchase of 8 cutting edge robotics companies in the last 6 months. The crown jewel is Boston Dynamics, profiled here at Singularity Hub. “The firm’s humanoid Atlas and Petman robots can balance on two legs, walk, and do calisthenics…Beyond the bipedal, the company’s Cheetah robot runs faster than Usain Bolt; their WildCat robot recently took Cheetah’s tricks beyond the treadmill; their robot SandFlea leaps onto tall buildings; and LS3 autonomously follows soldiers across rough terrain, carrying gear and supplies on its back.”

Consider this Boston Dynamics model, the Petman, and then imagine this robot with advanced artificial intelligence:

TRANSCENDENCE, starring Johnny Depp, opens April 17, 2014. This film investigates a different course for the future of human/machine interaction.

TRANSCENDENCE promises to consider whether Personality Amplification is always a positive enhancement. Kawakumi anticipates this issue:

“can an AI-driven agenda aimed at personal improvement actually limit us? Since machines are generally better at predicting a little bit into the future than humans are, Wolfram sees a possibility of people following computer recommendations. ‘A funny view of the future is that everybody is going around looking at the sequence of auto-suggests,’ he said. ‘And pretty soon the machines are in charge.’”

Ultimately, Sofge finds hope in HER:

Being smart doesn’t guarantee malice, or a callous urge to enslave or destroy less-capable beings… Which is why Her, and its version of the Singularity, is so refreshing. Samantha doesn’t lose her charm, or her compassion, even as her intelligence surpasses biological comparison or understanding. In fact, she claims to love us more. The AIs (Samantha is one of many) don’t follow the vicious Darwinian logic that many in the Singularity camp see as a given. The machines become smarter, but not superior. They’re the ultimate intellectuals—far too busy with discourse and theory to even consider something as superfluous as enslaving or supplanting their creators.

Her is a beautiful movie, for Joaquin Phoenix’s stripped-bare performance, its patient direction and plotting, and a host of other reasons that belong in a genuine review. But it’s also a film that understands that AI doesn’t have to be inherently terrifying. Her is smart enough to find beauty in intelligence, whether its modeled after our own thoughts, or ascending towards something much stranger.