The movie “Her” imagines a world in the very near future where the disembodied voices on our phones already guiding us through our days are more attractive and alluring than the fully embodied people around us.
My friend Kevin and I were talking about the movie and he said, “It’s already happening. I can’t compete with my wife’s phone.”
Kevin is a funny man, but apparently he’s not as funny as “The Sneezing Baby Panda.” Kevin is interesting, too. He often makes lists of subjects to discuss when he gets together with friends. I barely look at my phone when I’m hanging out with Kevin. Barely.
But according to Kevin, his wife seems more interested in lists other than his, such as "15 Things That Inevitably Happen When You Work in an Office" or "17 Terrible Puns to Brighten Your Day."
Kevin got me thinking – not big existential thoughts about the transformative powers of technology, but about my wife’s phone use. Am I more interesting than Rique’s phone? I kept notes this weekend. The early analysis does not look good.
I started strong. I brought up an issue that had to trump anything happening on the interwebs: our wills. We’d met with a lawyer a few months ago and we were supposed to get back to him after we’d worked out a few details. A few minutes into our conversation, the term “codicil” came up. She Googled it. From there, she was off. A text came in, which she answered in a novella-length flurry of finger-tapping.
It turns out it was a group text, so she started getting responses from people whose numbers weren’t in her phone, which led to inquiries, which led to new friendships and a conversation about rescue dogs, which led to a site about rescue dogs and lots of oohs and aahs. We arrived in Cinci just in time. One exit farther and we would have been the proud parents of Bernie the Pyrenees.
The ride home was no better. Clearly, I’m not as smart as I was when we met back in the age of dumb phones. My opinions of restaurants now have to compete with Yelp. My stories aren’t as compelling as “Grumpy Cat Doing the Harlem Shake.” My quips aren't as funny as nearly any animated gif.
And in the old days, before Facebook, my wife had to wait to run into someone who knew someone who knew her friend who said so-and-so just got divorced. In the meantime, I still seemed pretty interesting.
As tough as it is to compete with the amazing world at my wife’s fingertips, I’m hanging on. Fortunately, I can cook and I know exactly where to rub her neck. No matter how intelligent the voices coming out of our operating systems get, I’ll still have that.
What worries me most, though, is how easily these artificial intelligences will expose my flaws. Take listening. According to my wife, this isn’t one of my top ten skills. Already Siri outperforms me. And Siri’s skills are pretty primitive compared to Samantha, the operating system in “Her.”
Jim Sollisch is a Monitor contributor.