Her is a new film, set for release early in the New Year, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the role of a heartbroken writer who falls for Scarlett Johansson. Not the most implausible of scenarios, except that in this instance Johansson is nothing more than a voice – and the voice of a computer operating system at that.
Her is already receiving rave reviews, with many comparing it to Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report, where the view of the future proved to be uncannily accurate in many respects; indeed, unlike Minority Report, the technology shown in Her is for the most part already here and starting to become part of everyday life for ordinary people and not just the rich. Voice activation is becoming more and more commonplace, and 2014 is set to see a whole range of such products entering the mainstream.
People talking to their motor vehicles or internet TVs, and those devices being able to remember and store viewer preferences, will signal the end of the remote control in its current form: “The beautiful, dark and intriguing world of Her is a signal that the exploration of artificial intelligence, voice and natural language technologies – creating avatars which understand and decipher what we say – is something that is being talked about in a very real way,” notes John West of the company Nuance, which is evolving a product very similar to that seen in the film. Nuance is not connected to the moviemakers.
Whether people will really fall for artificial voices is up for debate; however, if they sound like Scarlett Johansson, anything is possible.