By Salvatore Tropiano
Digital technologies invite us to shatter our preconceptions of the possible. These technologies achieve this by bridging together the impossible and the real; a similar bridging process that has transformed our once isolated and undiscovered planet into the interconnected global community and marketplace of the 21st century.
Social media platforms such as Snapchat and Facebook’s Messenger app challenge the impossibilities of time and space. These platforms allow for those in love to maintain relationships in an increasingly global community where timezones and distance inhibits. The latest incarnation of Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones – the S7, is being marketed with the phrase Redefine what a phone can do. Without going deeply into the history of telecommunications, it is this type of technological status quo-shattering thinking that transforms the way lovers in 2016 engage with their partners though the facilitation of digital technology.
But what if the technology was your love?
So far I have discussed technology as the facilitator of a relationship between two human entities. In this regard the technology is merely the messenger boy; the one who conveys, not receives. What is still considered a bit of a novelty in digital technology is the concept of an artificial intelligence (AI) that can be engaged with using spoken words. Despite technologies such as Apple’s inbuilt assistant Siri emerging from the need to utilise hands-free phone operation, her learning algorithms are based on information fed to her, and can not reciprocate the more complex personality traits expressed by others.
The movie Her, directed by Spike Jonze, futures a retro-utopian reality where the operating system (OS) behaves with inextricable human-like personality traits. The OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), experiences a broad spectrum of human emotions such as joy, frustration, and heartache. She even has the capacity to compose witty gags based on her own experiences as shown in the double date picnic scene. Perhaps the most interesting trait Samantha has is her ability to reciprocate the love that her lover Theodore (Joaquín Phoenix). Communication between the couple can happen at any moment, yet she decides to wait until Theodore gets home to talk about an issue pressing on her. Does this further reveal how advanced the OS is to take empathetic considerations of Theodore, or does it reveal that in this 24/7 world that there is still an idea of the right time and place for more serious talks to take place?
There are also ramifications when ethical choices interfere with the advancement of technology. When a surrogate body is used for Samantha to assist the pair to engage in sexual activity, it goes horribly wrong when the surrogate realises what she has done and breaks down into tears. Other areas of advancing technology include the CRISPR genome editing tools that currently assist the agricultural sector to achieve desirable crops. However there may be consequences when entities selfishly decide to use CRISPR for potentially devastating experiments. It is these dangers of engaging with the artificial that Theodore learns of the hard and heartbreaking way.
Apple, 2016, Siri: Your wish it it’s command, viewed 28 August 2016, <http://www.apple.com/au/ios/siri/>.
Hobbs, B. 2016, CRISPR: The new tool in the gene editing revolution explained, ABC, viewed 29 August 2016,
Knight, W. 2015, This AI Algorithm Learns Simple Tasks as Fast as We Do, Technology Review, viewed 29 August 2016, <https://www.technologyreview.com/s/544376/this-ai-algorithm-learns-simple-tasks-as-fast-as-we-do/>.
Lewis, H. 2013, ‘Her’ Named Best Film by National Board of Review, viewed 28 August 2016, The Hollywood Reporter, <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/national-board-review-awards-announced-661763>.
Samsung, 2016, Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, viewed 28 August 2016, <http://www.samsung.com/au/consumer/mobile-phone/smartphone/smartphone/galaxy-s7/>.