The hypothesised technological singularity is still a niche concept in popular culture. Its leading proponents, notably Ray Kurzweil, are thinkers: philosophers, rationalists, futurists. For them, nothing could be more transformative and threatening than a world in which our creations have outsmarted us. For better or worse, we will build artificial minds that improve exponentially upon our own. We will be left behind wearing a dunce's cap while our electronic offspring inherit what is rightfully ours: our universe, our future.
A fascinating idea. And yet humanity responds, largely, with a shrug. Most of us are already quite accustomed to a healthy intellectual inferiority complex. Lawyers, bankers, reality TV stars, politicians: we can only aspire to reach their dizzying cognitive heights. So what if we must add computers to the list of things that make us feel stupid? Who cares?
In Her, Spike Jonze starts with the skeleton of this speculation and makes it something to feel viscerally, rather than ponder abstractly. Much less than a decade since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone, our machines are already our everyday companions, an extension of our emotions. That feeling of momentary heart-rending grief when we realise we've gone out and left our phone at home (or, worse, lodged behind a seat on a bus) is familiar to almost everyone.
And still this budding technological relationship remains in its honeymoon phase. We are unsure, tentative, ashamed to entertain the blossoming affair. Deeper interconnections and interdependencies must surely be in our in near-term future. Of course we will fall in love with our devices, head over heels, body and soul. The world of Her is effortless to believe in.
And just maybe, one day, they will love us back. This is really the only suspension of disbelief the film asks for (other than the notion that beardless moustaches will one day be back in fashion). And once you take that leap of faith, the conclusion becomes inevitable: in a world not so different from our own, where the machines we love not only return our affection but immeasurably improve on it, the only possible outcome is that they will break our hearts, completely and devastatingly. The machines we make won't outthink, annihilate or enslave us, they'll divorce us. And probably take the house.