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A New Movie – Her

January 3, 2014

There’s a new movie coming out which I think you all might find interesting.  It’s about a lonely man in the future who buys a new computer which is equipped with a sophisticated human-like AI.  As time goes on, they become best friends and fall in love in a very unique way.

I’ve said before that I imagine when I’m old, this is the way our computers will be.  They won’t just be for calculating numbers in spreadsheets, surfing the web, or playing video games — they’ll vividly interact and talk with us.  In this movie, he carries “her” around with a phone, and they become really close.

But will we carry these AI beings around in hand-held gadgets?  I doubt it.  That’s too clunky.  We’ll either wear glasses with augmented reality or we’ll have special implants in our brains which allow computers to project images into our mind.  In that situation, the AI could project a “form” into your field of vision and interact with you in that way.  Outside of a sense of touch, they’d be very real.

Nanotechnology is going to lead to some really neat technology.  Take brain-computer interfaces.  Gamers are already pushing for that sort of thing.  Right now we have things like the Oculus VR googles, but eventually neural implants will lead us to fully immersive virtual reality.

I don’t know if I could fall in “love” with a computer, but I like the idea of wise AI beings helping us throughout our lives.  I’d love to have them explain to me all the details of how the banking system works, or the nature of political reforms, or the latest research in any subject area.  We’d all have access to a super brilliant friend who is there to teach us anything we wonder about.  It could create vivid physics simulations for me, slowly pointing out the meaning of each equation, each lesson personalized just for me.  A dedicated research partner and friend.  That would be wonderful!

These sorts of films give scientists like me a vision.  I was looking on the wall of my university the other day, and there were all these posters asking for bright students to come work on different forms of technology.  One poster was specifically about medical nanotechnology.  With one phone call, I’d soon be working with technology which interfaces the brain, or possibly brain-scanners.

I want to hear people’s reactions to this film.  Would you want a computer which could interact with you in that way?  Would you want an emotional connection with your computer?  Young people need to see films like this and think, “I can make my computer do things like that.”  Do it!  Make it a reality!  Research AI and the human mind.  Make the world a more magical and interesting place to live in.

It’s worth noting that Alan Turing thought we’d have human-like computers by the year 2000.  The story of AI is long journey of high hopes and dismal failures.  While we’re always making progress, there does seem to be a “complexity brake” of sorts happening at the moment.  Our minds are very sophisticated instruments.  The way we process the environment, reason, and store information in our brains is a wonder to think about.  It won’t be a walk in the park to make human-level AI, but with all the research effort going into it these days with Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others, I’m placing my bets that we’ll achieve AI with human-level intelligence in my lifetime.

I saw an article  in a business journal not long ago, saying we live in a Jetsons world.  So much that was science-fiction fifty years ago is a reality today.  And why is that?  Those young kids grew up watching cartoons and movies and thought, “Wow, I want to build that!”  and they did.  It starts in someone’s imagination and then we build it.

Physicists often watch sci-fi shows like Star Trek and wonder, “Could we build a warp engine by bending space-time?”  Those questions are so popular they end up in our physics textbooks on general relativity.  They’re great thought experiments.

We see shows like Stargate SG1 and we think about whether or not we could build worm-holes.  Or we see Dr. Who and his almost magical Tardis, and we find ourselves asking what space and time are, and whether or not we could build a gigantic space within a smaller space in that way.

In many ways, those sorts of ideas motivate me to research physics at its deepest levels.  I think of the long-term term, and I daydream a lot.  I wonder how I could change the world or build something really interesting.  Do you?

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