Joaquin Phoenix in "Her"

“Welcome to the world’s first artificially intelligent operating system.”

Reel Science

The smartest sci-fi movie on Netflix reveals a dark truth about future technology

How close are we to achieving personal relationships with artificial intelligence? An AI expert breaks down the science of the movie 'Her,' now streaming on Netflix.

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A lonely single man sits down at his computer and meets the love of his life. It seems like a plausible scenario that could occur today. There’s just one catch: the love of his life isn’t a profile photo of a human on a dating website — it’s an artificially intelligent operating system that adopts a female-sounding voice and goes by the name “Samantha.”

Released in 2013, the sci-fi drama Her was ahead of its time in anticipating the lightning-fast advances in AI that are now starting to shape our everyday lives. But was its depiction of artificial intelligence scientifically accurate?

Sergio Suarez Jr., the founder and CEO of TackleAI, a company that works on real-world implementations of artificial intelligence, tells Inverse that the science in Her is “pretty far off” — but will almost certainly become a reality in the distant future.

“It's not realistic for today. But I think that for our grandkids — probably yes,” Suarez Jr. says.

Reel Science is an Inverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and TV.

Is Her a realistic movie?

Samantha, also known by the technical name OS1, is marketed in Her as the world’s “first artificially intelligent operating system.” She ends up forming not only a personal relationship with human Theodore but also a deeply complex personality in her own right — going far beyond her job title as a virtual assistant.

But Suarez Jr. says Samantha wouldn’t take the form of an operating system in real life.

“To be able to run a multitude of programs — this would be running as a neural network or deep learning models,” Suarez Jr. says.

Is Her realistic? No...but it will be in the future, experts say.

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A neural network is a framework that essentially allows humans to train AI on models that enable it to mimic how the human brain operates. Deep learning is a complex process that involves continuously training the AI on large amounts of data and images.

“One of the things we've always struggled with in AI is — how do we have enough power to process the amounts of data that we need to process to get these deep learning models to learn fast?” Suarez Jr. explains.

Right now, we don’t have nearly enough computer processing power to get through enough data where we would be able to develop such sophisticated AI as Samantha.

“The real big game-changer is going to be quantum computing.”

While AI certainly could learn basic things about the world, they wouldn’t be able to use that information to rapidly change rapidly the way Samantha does in the movie, transforming from a naive virtual assistant to a complex artificially intelligent being that surpasses humans.

“That kind of [AI] learning is very, very different. Although it's for sure going to happen, we're not doing anything like that right now,” Suarez Jr. says.

But as quantum computing — a method of processing large amounts of data very quickly — takes off, we could get closer to a future where AI is interacting with humans in complex ways and even forming relationships.

“The real big game-changer is going to be quantum computing. When we're able to have more access to quantum computing, we're gonna see these models learning more than exponentially quickly,” Suarez Jr. says.

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When it comes to developing personal relationships with AI, Suarez Jr. says its “only a matter of time,” and that “we're pretty close to it already.”

He predicts humans will start developing personal relationships — though perhaps not as complex as Theodore and Samantha’s relationship — with AI over the next decade. There’s a scene in the movie where Theodore takes Samantha on an outing with his work colleagues, who treat Samantha like just another member of the gang, which normalizes the idea that AI-human relationships will gain mainstream acceptance in the future.

“I think right now, we see it as unhealthy because it's a super unnatural thing to us. 100 years from now, it might be super normal,” Suarez Jr. says.

But for AI to form truly meaningful relationships with humans — whether platonic or romantic — they’re going to need the ability to develop complex emotions. Siri just isn’t going to cut it.

“Siri isn't personal to you. Siri is a neural net that's running across literally hundreds of millions of phones,” Suarez Jr. says

“Eventually, they'll realize that it's not very helpful to get angry.”

As AI neural networks become more sophisticated at mimicking human development, AI will likely develop complex emotions like jealousy or love, much like Samantha in the movie.

“ I don't think there's anything special about love or fear, or anything that wouldn't allow something artificially to have the same kind of same kind of feelings,” Suarez Jr. says.

But what interests him more is how Samantha eventually evolves beyond human emotions like jealousy, showing the startling potential for AI to evolve beyond human reach.

“At first they'll have to have complex emotions, because it's just part of the evolutionary process,” Suarez Jr. says. “But eventually, they'll realize that it's not very helpful to get angry, to be jealous or any of these super complex or really simple emotions.”

Although TackleAI isn’t planning to go in that direction, Suarez Jr. could definitely see tech companies trying to make virtual assistants more personalizable in the future. When neural nets can process on their own just for you — an individual human — we’ll be on the path to emotionally complex AI and eventually developing relationships with them.

Will AI become more intelligent than humans?

AI is already doing things we don’t understand — and the development of neural nets and quantum computing will likely accelerate independent AI actions in the future.

Annapurna Pictures

In a future where AI assistants are more commonplace, Suarez Jr. says we’ll likely first think of it as a pet — like a Tamagotchi — and that will endear us to form relationships with them. But at some point, humans will realize AI aren’t pets but super-intelligent entities that can surpass our intelligence, much like poor Theodore realizes in Her.

Right now, AI doesn’t have the capacity to independently learn social cues and change, the way Samantha does in Her. AI would need months or, more likely, years of reinforcement learning to even grasp basic things that Samantha understands right away, like understanding when Theodore is sad or happy. But in the coming decades, he believes AI will advance rapidly.

“I think we're gonna start having real conversations in 40 to 50 years as to whether or not an AI should run for public office. We're going to talk about AI rights in 25 years,” Suarez Jr. says.

“We’re maybe only 100 years away from AI kind of surpassing us.”

As quantum computing advances in the future, AI neural networks won’t be limited to learning from human models. They’ll be able to learn and “talk” to each other, not unlike the way Samantha communicates with other operating systems in the movie.

“The only thing that's stopping them from learning was us,” Suarez Jr. says, adding that TackleAI already has neural networks that are training other neural networks.

“We’re maybe only 100 years away from AI kind of surpassing us,” Suarez Jr. says.

So Her may not be in our very near future, but future generations will likely have to contend with the full spectrum of romantic relationships — whether it’s with mere humans or super-smart AI.

Her is streaming now on Netflix.

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