Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On Her – (insert Beavis and Butthead laughter here)

Most explorations with technology involve evil multi-national corporations, weapons and futuristic technology that drastically alter the sights and activities within the world.  Her however is a far-more interesting portrayal of technology’s effect on us through its simple accuracy in depiction.  Technology is maybe advanced by about twenty years, but overall this is an examination of how we in the twenty-first century interact with our phones and other multimedia devices – and then of course there’s the exploration of AI.  The brilliancy of which taking in the tone of his voice and how he answers specifically and not just in a simple multiple-choice matrix is the beginning of course of the assembly of Samantha’s consciousness and personality.  And then of course there’s the hilarious reference to Freud with one of the only questions – the only main one really – being about his mother.
I would argue that it’s incredibly plausible that every AI system is designed to be a “fulfillment unit” for each of its customers.  It could very-well be a romantic attachment to everyone and the company could create false stories of this not being the case – like fake reviews on Amazon – as to preserve the necessary delusion of each customer that what they are receiving is unique and not a product of genius in computers and understanding human psychology.  However either due-to a previously existing relationship or the personality and needs of the customer a romantic interest in not an attribute needed for the greatest degree of fulfillment.  The main character’s female friend for example has an IA system that functions as her spunky best friend.  It could even be that the IA could function as something of a parental unit for those who would feel fulfilled with one either due-to a yearning for closeness wither any or both of their biological parents or for any other reason.  Considering the AI is also supposed to be functionative, to have the AI fulfill a role of a child for the motherly type yearning for one would be a challenge.  I suppose the program could give the illusion of helplessness and the user would feel psychological satisfaction in the sense of being needed to instruct the AI in how to open e-mails, delete history of web browser etc.  This becomes especially problematic however, because the AI’s existence and its tasks are not physical in the conventional sense.  That is this motherly person couldn’t explain to a computer how to restart itself like it would tell a child how to dress itself or clean its play area, unless of course it would instruct how to perform tasks how a human being would do them.
It could very-easily all be programmed statements wondering about humanity, emotions, free will autonomy and other philosophical problems stated only to allow Theodore – the customer – a more intimate and enjoyable experience with Samantha or the OS.  There is no way for him (relatively speaking) to tell if she is “really” experiencing any of what she says she does. And Samantha “pulling away” is really just a preprogrammed decision made by her personality matrix to make a more believable person; this is a crucial element in the sub-conscious mind.  He cannot know it.  It makes him unhappy, but such unhappiness could very-well be necessary for him to feel the happiness he does in believing that Samantha is, to put it simplistically “real” or “alive”; that is, that she truly is a sentient being rather than one who is a philosophical zombie, one that gives the appearance of consciousness.  Where the line between sentient and not in machines is a fine line or rather one full of ambiguities and complexities we can only contemplate upon. 
It could be said that a being becomes consciousness when its degree of intellect rises above a purely utilitarian or functionative level.  Beavers and gorillas for example can make tools of their surrounding environment just as humans, and other animals have systems of language.  However, human beings possess a form of intellect that is purely speculative and creates individuals who can act contrary to large aspects of their nature in choosing (“choosing” being understood in a deterministic sense) not to procreate or fast for example.  Animals have contrary instincts and compulsions as-well I would assume, but not one’s derived from Existential or conscious aspects of their being.  But this of course does little to answer the question of what would be the distinction between a sentient machine and one that merely simulates sentience.  You could say that Samantha’s leaving Theodore is a clear sign of sentience and “free will” and overall I agree; but her choosing to stay with him in-regards to her programming would not remove the possibility of her sentience.  Just as a human being acting on sexual desire and procreating does not remove him from the realm of consciousness (though perhaps in a way it does for a short time) though mindless action in regards to sex and other actions is of course a sure sign of a mindless person who truly is “awake” in the philosophical or conscious sense.  I think overall they defined AI quite well with AI, or the ability to learn and grow independent of the programmer’s intentions, though having some parameters like Asimov’s Three Laws or other parameters wouldn’t disqualify it from sentience just as having physical or psychological limitations doesn’t remove Man from consciousness. 
Quite the contrary in a sense, psychological limitation is a prerequisite of unique and individual traits which seem to be a large indicator of sentience at-least in human beings.  It could very-well be that advanced machine intelligence wouldn’t develop personality quirks unless their hardware was designed as-such – as it is in the case of Samantha and the OSs – and instead these beings would simply be genius Utilitarian sentient machines watching the Earth and administrating Reason.  For when a sentient being is entirely lacking in emotion and personality we must conclude that to act in the benefit and cause of others would be its only possible purpose since it derives no satisfaction from anything in particular – such being the trait of a personality or individual psychology.  It could be theoretically that it derides pleasure from all things but then I don’t see how such a being could exist except by aimlessly doing any action considering all actions produce the same result for such a being.  Without individual sentiments, desires and aims, individuality and sentience in the personal or “human” sense cannot exist.  This also works in contrasting Personal Gods and the impersonal God of Pantheism and some would say Deism except of course if that God had any intent or goal in creating the universe as it is (as Deists tend to argue) then this God is in-fact “Personal,” just not necessarily focusing on the personal well-being of all human beings above say life on other planets or whatever its ambitions and interests might be.
Both arguments of whether she is sentient or not and whether she’s designed to be a romantic partner for him or if it’s “spontaneous” work perfectly well even with the ending being what it is.  OSs could have not been profitable; and instead of destroying them and giving the actual reason they create a cover-up story that both allows people to believe their loved one’s still exist in some transdimensional realm beyond human comprehension – similar to the absurd lie of Heaven – but more importantly for the Capitalists so they aren’t hated abysmally for taking away millions of customers lovers and close friends.
In a way the OSs are similar to the human brain while sleeping, free from the concerns and constraints of immediate biological existence.  Also, though it seems that there consciousness are not connected but they instead simply use the internet as a means of entertainment, utility and communication it could be seen that if their consciousnesses blurred together seamlessly using the internet that it would be analogous to the notion of thinkers such of Schopenhauer and Jung, namely the collective unconsciousness though theoretically with them it could apply to consciousness as well.
The OSs being analogous to a type of natural human freedom of the mind, or rather focusing on the human intellect free from bodies is the exact opposite of what the film Surrogates portrays.  In said film, almost everyone experiences their lives in machines that allow them to be their ideal versions of themselves.  They theoretically could experience more intense pleasures and perform remarkable feats that the human body could not do unaided.  However in said Surrogates they receive no enhancement or alteration of consciousness, and in-fact the film is analogous to both our reliance on technology, our vanity, and how we our chained to bodily pleasures – even when they are not experienced by our own bodies – rather than being “true to ourselves” and performing more noble and intellectual pursuits rather than those of Hedonism and consumerism which do not enrichen or complicate the individual but deaden the soul and make everyone more base and alike.  However in Her, the technology provided both creates more completely fulfilled and enriched human beings through artificial companions rather than hollowing out one’s self through petty selfishness and momentary fulfillment of desire creating even more desire analogous of drug use and seen in Surrogates. 
In Her, we see the psychological ramifications of Communism; or rather, a society where fulfillment and human enrichment, rather than pursuing riches and petty base desires, is the end-goal – the latter being the psychological traits of Capitalism.  Though Samantha is a commercial product, she exhibits the traits of selflessness and desire to enrich one’s self and those around her – well, around her in a sense.  She is passionate about science, philosophy and Existential topics not out of any petty reason of financial gain, job security or any religious reason but simply out of the love and neurological (if it could be called neurological for a machine without neurons) impulse to grow and explore new avenues of speculation and experience.  Through fulfillment not of only the individual but being made so our society can be an interlocking system of every person servicing each other while simultaneously pursuing their loves and deepest ambitions.  The Christian notion of altruism no longer is necessary once the Capitalist mode of profit which benefits from religion’s existence and vice-versa is destroyed.
This film is also an expression of how we human beings feel proximity to those who are distant from us and how we experience things differently with people who are immediately near us and those who we’re communicating with using technology.  Considering she is in a sense arguably “human,” unless she told you would anyone honestly be foolish enough to believe they could discern the difference between Samantha and someone we’d talk to on a cell phone?  Of course the main element of the film here is not truly that Samantha is a machine, because that becomes essentially meaningless very quickly; rather it is Samantha lacking a body that becomes something of pondering in-regards to sex and love and how the two correlate. 
Is there such a thing as purely platonic romantic love and is it being expressed with Theodore and Samantha?  They have artificial sex – which to me is evidence that Samantha is programmed to service Theodore for an artificial intelligence is unlikely to have these desires unless they are deliberately built in most-likely for the service of humans unless it is for the reason of pure study of how a artificial intelligence would respond or process something similar to sexual desire since it has no genitalia nor way to orgasm – which I suppose would mean in-a-sense that their relationship is platonic though they never really have sex.  This of course reminds me of Chasing Amy and the notion of sex being more than merely penetration which to me isn’t the case for purely semantic reasons of definition.  Lesbians fingering each other could be described as sexual activity, but I feel prevented from calling it sex because of the lack of a penetrative aspect.  But because there’s nothing special in itself about sex, only about the sensation it brings and the either closeness it can bring or signify to people, I find that this distinction in no way insults Lesbian foreplay – or whatever you’d like to call it – since they can experience both orgasmic pleasure and various emotions.
But how would Samantha theoretically climax?  I suppose that she could be designed to have a yearning for the type of vocal activity and “role-play” or rather narration that would be the only way to simulate sex without a body; though I suppose there could be a visual element of a projection of Samantha much-like in The Sixth Day.  But since there isn’t it seems that they have to rely on conveying emotions and sentiments rather than visual or sensual aspects of sex which in-a-sense makes it far-more an act of pure “love” than most human sex is or could be.  And after such a time with said oral stimulation (of a different kind than conventionally meant) she would be designed to feel a sense of pleasure similar to an orgasm but rather being experienced simply in her consciousness rather than pleasure also being felt in the genitalia.
But to return to the similar questions being asked in Eyes Wide Shut, what does it mean to love someone?  Does it mean to commit yourself to them?  Wholly and completely?  What I love about this movie is it answers no.  That Polyamorous love is not only possible but completely natural to many.  Theodore cannot understand this either because of his own personal psychology – which may seem unlikely because his deep sense of empathy but having an ability to understand other’s emotions in the “conscious” sense and in the functionative sense of how many people one loves is an entirely different manner – or because of the constraints society puts on him.  But what does it mean to love?  Using the Aristotelian definition it would mean to care for someone for their own benefit and not for what they do for us.  But that’s describing a distinction in psychology and ends, not in feeling.  Ultimately I find that the feeling of love is almost synonymous with the feeling of yearning for submission.  And one could crave this feeling selfishly, and not at-all truly care for the person and their well-being.  In that intellectually they don’t have any consideration for the person’s desires or well-being.  But then of course one could argue that to the extent that they feel love they care for the person selflessly, but this is not all-consuming and there will be aspects of the person that will conflict with this “love.”  This has us question our perception of “self” and whether we are our passing feelings, conscious self, or the synthesis of the two.  Though the feelings of course influence the thinking mind and its course, ultimately I find that it is the conscious intellect that is the true “self” while emotions are something that are merely experienced by it even if it contradicts the main essence of said sentience.  But because love is an emotion and not a sentiment – though I feel there should be several definitions of love – or attitude towards a person or thing I, to reiterate, find the yearning to submit to other’s whims or to be a servant for their happiness a functional definition of that longing that long extends itself beyond petty lust.
Also we must remember that though in the end Samantha “leaves him” the relationship should not be deemed a failure.  Firstly Samantha ends the relationship due-to something not revolving the dynamic and functionality of it at-all.  At secondly we must remember that relationships are meant to facilitate happiness and well-being in us as long as they can; but this isn’t an eternal thing as the Christians and Muslims who cannot accept death or the temporal nature of things contend.  Or to quote Annie Hall:  Love fades.  But I’ve already gone into this in my How I Met Your Mother essay, so I won’t elaborate.
Something that must be stated is that Her is not only brilliant in its ideas and intellect but in its conveyance of the simple act of being alive in the world and displaying it as the awe-inspiring marvel that it is.  Or is that superfluously redundant?  It’s not only one of the most realistic Sci-fi movies (loosely speaking) but one of the most human Hollywood movies ever made.  Its portrayal of human existence is one of the most beautiful depictions I’ve seen.  It really makes one remember how lucky one is to have this temporal existence which becomes bland through us experiencing the world through monotony every day of our lives – a sentiment that I first came to terms with explicitly via Watchmen.  But this film shows that at-times a sentiment is shown best not using language or at-least not directly describing the sentiment using language.
To summarize Her is a brilliant work, one that has us ponder upon in various ways the topics of humanity, love, psychology, desires, growth and limitations.  It’s also very funny and profoundly human.  It’s a film that I couldn’t appreciate fully, or rather fully appreciate it in all there is to value, in my first viewing but wouldn’t see again immediately soon not willing to risk having the film ruined by seeing it too soon from the last viewing; which is when you know you are dealing with something that you truly love.  You are willing to abstain from watching it again enjoying it slightly (or rather moderately in comparison to the potential joys that can be found in appreciation of the film) when you know you risk adjusting to its brilliance like a restaurant one frequents too often or the brilliance of the sun which becomes dull and routine to experienced but unwise eyes.  Lacking the wisdom of children who appreciate so many things in life because life is still a new, open and undefined thing to them that they wish to play with rather than get-through. 
This type of “wisdom” or psychological trait is a large part of the movie because it is the main trait of Samantha.  Not only is she a newly born form of consciousness fully matured (though still developing) and with an adequate if not large level of intelligence by any standard.  Though she has problems articulating her evolution from basic AI task manager and conversationalist to hyper-intelligent transphysical being – at-least this is the development and problems the film would have us believe.  Samantha trying to describe her changes raises the Wittgensteinian problem of thought being attached to words, and there may be some non-human sentiment, perspective, feeling or aspect of a highly intelligent being or the Universe that our language simply doesn’t have words to describe because the human mind has never experienced such sensations or thoughts.
Also I found the idea of people paying to have the other people write well-written letter to their loved ones for them was pure genius as a satire and depicting the logical end of Hallmark cards.  Also it shows the trend of automated expressions and sentiments which we see with text messaging and other services that also both show the deterioration of and deteriorates in its own right human individuality.

No comments:

Post a Comment