December 7th, 2015
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
What parts of the movie Her will come true first?
Since I started on my new startup, everyone has been telling me to watch the movie Her. So last night I was at a friend’s house and she had a copy and so I watched it. I thought it was a great movie, though I have some criticism in terms of “How do we bring this to market?”
My thoughts right now are mostly focused on Amazon Echo, so I will offer my thoughts in that frame.
Things that the intelligent operating system Samantha does in Her:
1.) Alleviate loneliness. There is an obvious market for this. Building the technology for this touches on the issue of how good does it have to be. If you assume that consciousness relies on a probabilistic mechanism, then a machine that uses electro-magnetism to achieve determinism is clearly not going to get us there. And even when we finally have probabilistic machines, there is a big difference between building a basic consciousness versus a consciousness that most people would like. How many do you like, out of all the people you’ve ever met?
Still, people use cats and dogs and other pets to alleviate loneliness, so we don’t need computers to become great conversationalists. We just need to create the illusion of meaningful interaction. And there are techniques for this. The most obvious is Liza. Back in 2000 I read an article AOLiza, which was a chat bot that would go into the chat rooms on AOL. Some people spoke with it for as much of an hour. An updated version of that, run over an Amazon Echo, would probably go a significant way down the road to Her.
2.) Talk in people’s ears. My biggest criticism.
Samantha can be social. In one scene, Theodore Twombly and Samantha go on a date with another couple, and Samantha keeps the other couple entertained with her wit. But most of the times the Intelligent OSs are anti-social. There is a scene where his neighbor is at work and she shares a joke with her OS, who is a “perv” and who likes a scene in a video game where a mom rubs herself against a refrigerator. But Theodore Twombly can’t hear what’s being said.
We’ve all gotten used to this thanks to phones: someone hears a joke that we can’t hear. Cell phones have made this more common than old land line phones. But there is substantial push back. My friends are intolerant of this behavior. If I pushing this as a commercial product, I would default to open communication with the room (as the Amazon Echo does). Private chat would be the exception.
3.) Identify merit in writing. In one scene Samantha reads through Theodore Twombly’s works, finds the best stuff, and sends it to publisher, where it gets accepted for publication. Discovering merit in writing remains very difficult.
Even among humans there is no agreement regarding merit. Some people love Doestevsky and some people would never read him in a million years. Of my own blog posts, even when I put in substantial effort and even when I hire Natalie Sidner to edit them, some people find them interesting and others feel that I am a terrible writer.
Still, I assume, in the same way that Pandora was able to break musical tastes into a vast graph with almost infinite shared sub-sections, I suppose someone will, at some point, do the same for writing, and then it should be possible to discover merit that matches the taste of some sub-population.
Computers which can find meaning in writing remains science fiction. But enough correlations should be discoverable to make something like Samantha’s actions possible.
4.) Discover tone in writing. At one point Samantha says “You just got an email from your lawyer. He sounds pissed off.” Here it should be possible to memorize a few million common arrangement of words and take a brute force approach to sort email by tone. This seems very close to being doable. I’m not sure if there is a market for this. It seems like a “nice to have” rather than a “need to have”.
5.) Order appropriate clothing. Samantha buys a gift for Theodore’s (daughter? niece?). This is not much more than what the recommendation engine in Amazon already does. I assume Amazon is working on this one. I assume this is the first one that becomes real.
“Alexa, I need a gift for an 8 year old girl.”
“Sure. I’m ordering a dress that’s popular for her demographic.”
6.) Fall in love. I doubt anything as deterministic as electro-magnetism can get us here.
7.) Try to kill us by locking us out of the spaceship.
Oh wait, that was a different movie. Also, not much of a market.Source