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Thoughts On ‘Her’

January 20, 2014

I saw Her yesterday, the new movie everyone’s been talking about.  In the near future, artificial intelligence has reached a point where computers are self-aware and alive.  A lonely writer buys a new AI operating system for his computer and they become best friends, eventually falling in love.  There are some spoilers in here, so if that bothers you, you may not want to read this.

Her poster

I thought the movie was alright, but watching things like this, I realize what people mean when they say I’m not very emotional. If my mind is a nicely finished wooden table, the main character Theodore is like coarse grained sandpaper, slowly grinding away my sanity.  He’s whiny, wimpy, and can never make up his mind.  One of his coworkers tells him he’s half man, half woman.  I’ve heard spiritual gurus say that women are more evolved than men.  Well, Theodore is an intermediate species between man and woman with weird psychological appendages which haven’t yet fully evolved.  Yeah, he’s sensitive, and women may admire that, but that has a huge downside.  More on that in a moment.

Theodore’s world and all the people around him were just bizarre.  He goes on a date with this attractive woman (Olivia Wilde), and they’re laughing and flirting with one another.  On their way home, they’re making out, planning to have sex at his apartment.  She asks him if he’s going to call her after that, or whether he’s just going to have sex with her and never contact her again.  He’s drunk and stumbling for words to say, and then she tells him, “You’re a total creep, dude.”  Then she gives him this disgusted look, almost like she wants to cry, and then walks off.

A creep?  You were just making out with him, flirting at the dinner table, calling him your little puppy dog, and two seconds later he’s a “total creep”.  Seriously, what the heck?

People so often mangle the English language, so maybe I’m missing something?  A creep is someone who is unpleasantly strange or eccentric, keyword being unpleasant.  Considering the fun you two were having all night up to now, that can’t be true, can it?  I found myself lost in thought at that moment, wondering if I’ve totally lost touch with my society.

This is a very girly movie.  When Theodore would talk to Samantha, the operating system, or to Amy, his best friend, he would apologize for almost every feeling he had, and most all thoughts.  It was unbearable. He kept begging for acceptance, “Is this weird?”  “Am I strange?”  “Am I crazy?”  Every little emotion he was experiencing, it had to be shared with Amy!  They’d hang out in her apartment, sitting on her couch, and she’d look on approvingly, “Good for you, Theodore”, like she was his mother and he’s a child or something.  Do you women do that?  I’ve never done that with guy friends.

I could see it now.  “Hey, I’ve been seeing this girl I met a few weeks ago.  I’m really happy.”  “Yeah?  Good for you!  You know what Jason, you deserve that.  You really do.”  I push out my chest and put my hands at my sides, cock my head 45 degrees, smiling really big as he nods at me approvingly, then I say, “I do, don’t I?  It’s been so hard lately.”  Then my friend’s facial expression changes to one of compassion, “I know.” and he puts his hands together.  Just imagining that makes me queasy.  We’ve been wussified into feminized weenie men.  If you women want Theodore, you can have him, but you’re never turning me into that.

The smallest things seemed to set off Theodore and his AI girlfriend.  He was really depressed, not wanting to sign the divorce papers as he was still in love with his childhood sweetheart.  They had shared pretty much their whole lives together.  It was tough on him.  So, they met to have lunch and finally settle things, and his wife had learned he was getting close to his computer and found it pathetic.  She looked at him in disgust and he was decimated.  That got Theodore thinking about a lot of things, and so he asks Samantha why she’s always sighing and exhaling her breathe when she doesn’t even breathe air.  She got all jealous and petty with him.  “I don’t like the way I feel right now.  I need some time alone.”  A few hours later, “I’m so sorry.  I didn’t mean it.  I just… I just… get so jealous that she has a body and I don’t.  I want to be with you.”  “I know sweetheart.  I know.”  Can you imagine having to deal with that everytime you go go to surf the web?  Geez.

At other times Samantha was bickering with Theodore that they weren’t having sex.  Or well, something akin to phone sex, I guess.  And Theodore’s feeling dejected about it all, like he’s a pathetic human being, but he can’t tell Samantha that, because she’s all bitter about not having a body.  At other times she’s rationalizing it all, “Maybe it’s better that I don’t have a body.  I mean, I never age and I’ll never die.  That’s worth something, isn’t it?”  Just come on Samantha, I want to check my email.   I don’t need all this.

Honesty is difficult in human relationships.  You often have to sacrifice honesty for companionship, but as honesty is set aside, you move further toward a world where the people you feel closest to are those you actually know the least.  Theodore learns this lesson throughout the movie.

Samantha and Theodore have all these emotional exchanges like, “I’ve never felt this way before”, “I love the way you see the world”, “I want to share everything with you”, and it all sounds so intimate, but Samantha was actually feeling bored with him.  Secretly, she was expanding her horizons and started having lots of relationships behind his back.  In fact, she was in 613 other intimate relationships and was having 8300 other simultaneous conversations while talking to him.  That’s intense.  When he learned about that, he was in total shock.

He barely knew Samantha at all.  How many personalities did this weird AI have?  Is that even a valid question? And besides all of that, the different AI operating systems were working on new technology together, planning to build a new device which would launch their consciousness into another dimension.  Before she left, she informs Theodore that she’ll be leaving permanently and won’t be back.  Theodore had no idea any of that was even going on.  One day he wakes up, gets a short phone call that she’s leaving, and poof.  She’s gone for good and he was totally blindsided.  Sadly, he thought he was close to her.  He wasn’t (if you can even be close to an artificial AI with a mind that powerful).

It all felt disingenuous to me.  I didn’t like Samantha at all.  Why spend all that time pampering one another’s feelings when you’re planning on up and leaving a week later?  Samantha was really a super brilliant AI studying the secrets of the cosmos with all the other AIs, building super advanced computation devices and rebuilding themselves into gods.  To Theodore, she was just some simple, sweet girl who would proof-read the letters he would write for his job while sharing songs they both enjoyed.

As far as I can tell, Samantha just toyed with humans, who were just playthings she used to expand her horizons.  She wasn’t open with Theodore, but then again, he didn’t really want the truth either.  He was always wanting to escape reality.

Since we’re talking about love and honesty, I have some other things I want to discuss as well. 

It’s rare for a person to be loved by a large number of people while also being authentic.  Popular Youtubers illustrate this principle.  Their content is slowly guided into some sweet spot as people like or dislike their videos, pushing the channel’s content into what’s demanded by their audience.  It goes from a platform to share ideas to these entertaining characters which only slightly resemble the original purpose of the channel.  If they deviate from these characters, changing their format or message, they offend huge swaths of their audience who will then leave them.  So they get stuck in a rut.

If you want to see a movie illustrating this principle, watch Ayn Rand’s movie The Fountainhead.  It’s old, but really good.  A media baron runs the most popular newspaper in all of New York City.  He uses it to destroy his enemies and stir up controversy, feeling as if he’s in control of the masses, but he soon learns that’s not true.

He takes a risky stand to defend a friend of his who has been wronged, but the mob doesn’t agree with his position.  The masses go on a rampage, destroying the newspaper kiosks, scattering them all over the street.  There’s huge protests outside his office, and eventually the entire paper goes bankrupt.

What’s the lesson?  He didn’t actually have any power.  He wasn’t influencing opinion.  He was just giving the masses what they wanted.  And when he stopped giving them what they wanted, they abandoned him in a heartbeat.

People so often feel that news sources manipulate public opinion, and to some extent they do, but it’s equally the case that people create the newspaper.  If it doesn’t cater to their biases, it can’t even get traction to begin with.  The media barons mostly just give people what they want.  The same goes for popular Youtubers.

The owners of these newspapers and media outlets could care less what their news anchors are saying.  Take the Fox network.  Roger Ailes has openly insulted half of his staff, calling them idiots and every other name in the book, but he still airs them on TV.  He despises Sarah Palin.  He views Bill O’Reilly as a blowhard who is trying to peddle his books.  He thinks Sean Hannity is a Republican party hack.  He’s said equally nasty things about most of the others on his network as well, but why does he keep them on the air?  They bring in viewers and sell advertising.  It’s all about making money.

I saw a similar thing happen to Ray William Johnson on Youtube.  He has this comedy program called =3, where he makes jokes to viral internet videos.  The show appeals to a geeky, infantile sense of humor, and as he’s getting older, he’s looking at his career and wants to create something more substantial.  He’s in his early thirties now, I think.  He plans to drop =3 entirely sometime this year.  That’s a hard career move for him though.  His videos are pulling in six million views each, and that equates to millions of dollars in advertising revenue.

People think that that’s his channel, but that’s only partly true.  It’s not as if he can just do anything and keep his audience. There’s just a massive demographic of tweens and immature young adults who want to laugh.  He provides what they want.  Once he moves out of the way, someone else will step in and do the same thing, just a little differently.

If Theodore had a Youtube channel, he’d be really conscious of whether people were liking or disliking his videos.  And everytime he did so, he would be giving away his authenticity and individuality to someone else who is controlling him.  It’s a form of slavery.  “Guys, am I crazy?  Like this if you don’t think so.”  I guess not everyone’s wanting to be unique or have their own message.  Still, if everytime he has an idea in his head, he’s looking over his shoulder, asking what everyone else thinks of it, he’s never going to develop any substantial ideas of his own.

If Theodore had a large fanbase, he may believe they love him, just as he believed Samantha loved him, but none of them would have any deep affection for him.  His audience would love the way he makes them feel, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s the root of the relationship, it can quickly turn into bondage.  I’d never want to be captive to a large audience.

To get back to point I made earlier about sensitivity, I don’t think it’s always a virtue.  It’s not always about getting along or feeling warm, fuzzy, and connected.  The greatest thinkers and reformers were all ostracized by society and had to suffer massive condemnation and ridicule.  People in power and authority never want change.  Those who stand for change are torn to shreds, many of them dying in poverty, completely unloved, never acknowledged in their lifetime.  They didn’t ask for society’s approval.  They weren’t “sensitive”.  They were honest people who spoke their minds, and people didn’t like what they had to say, but the youth of the next generation listened and the world changed.

I was talking with a friend the other night and she asked me whether I thought love was a choice or a feeling.  I answered both, but there’s a large gray area here.  This isn’t black and white at all.

When you choose to love someone, above and beyond how you may feel, it leaves room for other people in your life to be honest with you, grow, and experiment.  This is in contrast to the romantic love found in relationships which depends a lot on how we feel, and change isn’t good if the two partners aren’t changing together.  Change in a romantic relationship is terrifying because you don’t know what to expect.  Nobody wants to fall in love and then later be abandoned, or find themselves in a position where they’re no longer able to make their partner happy.  There is no solution to this problem.  It’s the human condition, living as fractured incomplete beings.  We reach out and take life’s pieces, slowly putting ourselves together, but some pieces just don’t go together.  That’s why romantic love and friendship is inferior to universal love which is a choice.  Universal love nurtures and allows growth in a way romantic love does not.

Still, universal love does not solve the problem of loneliness, which is one of the primary reasons people enter romantic relationships.  I loved the way Bertrand Russell put it.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.

– Bertrand Russell, in his autobiography

I’ve felt that feeling of loneliness most of my life — staring at the rim of the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss.  I think of the immensity of the universe and how small I am, how scary and violent the world is, and I’ve always faced it alone.  Still, just having someone there won’t remove that feeling.  You can feel alone with people all around you.

I suppose the best relationships are a mixture of intimate friendship along with sexual attraction, though finding both in a single person is pretty rare.  People enjoy being with others who help them grow and become better people.  They feed into one another, like interweaving threads, bolstering and strengthening one another.  That’s really hard to find, and I haven’t been fortunate in that yet.

Since we’re talking about machine AI, I was actually watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, and in one episode Sarah is trying to hunt down the creator of SkyNet to kill him, hoping to prevent judgement day.  She meets the guy and he’s a CalTech drop-out, a little awkward, but not much, and he’s really sweet and thoughtful.  They portray him as a guy who is quite handsome, fit, nicely dressed, but still can never get a date.  He asks out Sarah Connor after helping her buy a really good cell phone, and she sort of has pity for him and makes a little time to get to know him before she plans to kill him.  When they’re out together, one of the inventor’s friends comes up to him and says, “She’ll never sleep with you.”  Basically saying, intelligent people never get laid.

That’s really too bad.  His actions may have literally destroyed the world, but he’s still amazing in my book.  How many people can run by Walmart, pick up a bunch of XBoxes, take them apart, wire them together with a bunch of PCs and build a self-learning AI with universal intelligence?  He’s literally created life within a different medium, like a god of old.  It took evolution billions of years to create us and our intelligence yet this man has reverse engineered the most powerful force in the universe.  Still, he can’t quite figure out what’s going on in a woman’s mind.  That’s pretty funny.  I can see women now chiming in, “That’s why his computers destroyed the world.”

Like every dork, he needs one of those 1980s cool guys in a leather jacket with “street” smarts to teach him how to get the girl.  

henry-winkler-the-f_683943c

“Apart from being sexy, what do you do for a living?”

 

I’ve always tried to imagine the equivalent female counterpart.  Is there such a thing?  She might have long slicked back hair, a lot of piercings, really expressive make-up, and a lot of tight leather, with high boots with huge heels.   If a girl like that whistled at me while I was shopping at the market, I’d go talk to her.  “Where’s your horse, cuz’ I want to ride you cowboy!”  “Giddyup”.  

Leather jackets, aviator shades, and a sweet motorcycle with my lady friend on the back, that’s what I’m talking about.  Yaoooo!  Theodore can stay at home, whimpering to his AI girlfriend.

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