The pop-culture tuning fork known as the Academy Awards will reveal its film nominations on Thursday, and if the recent Golden Globes win by Her on Sunday for best screenplay is any indication, the film’s writer and director,Spike Jonze, may score his first-ever Oscar win.But the film, which depicts a man in the not-too-distant future who falls in love with his computer operating system, may be less important as an epic love story and far more relevant as the best and most widely accessible film we’ve seen about an idea known as the Singularity.
Popularized by science fiction author Vernor Vinge as well as inventor and now Google director of engineering Ray Kurzweil, the Singularity is a theoretical point in future history when artificial intelligences exceed the power of the human mind, become self-aware and dramatically change the balance of power on the planet while simultaneously transforming the very nature of humanity itself.
Films like 1999’s The Matrix showed us a world struggling in aftermath of the Singularity in which seemingly malevolent artificial intelligences enslaved humanity. But perhaps the earliest cinematic conflict applying sentient qualities to an mechanized construct is a film that celebrated its 87-year anniversary on Friday: 1927’s Metropolis.
The film tells the tale of a scientist who transforms a metallic robot into a flawless copy of a kidnapped woman named Maria. Spoiler alert: the robot is later burned at the stake and human Maria is set free.
One of the central differences between these three films is how they reveal humanity’s relationship to technology at the time. In the technologically naïve 1920s that created Metropolis, humanity can easily defeat technology through the same means used to dispatch human criminals.
The Matrix, on the other hand, was released during the mainstream explosion of the Internet and all the uncertainty it fostered. In the film, technology appears as something out of our control, with only one “magical” human (Neo) given the ability to meet the sentient computers on equal footing.
But in Her we’re given a far more mature look at what the Singularity may really look like when and if it comes to pass.
While many were alternately enthralled and creeped out by the subtlety and charm of the emotional interaction between Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) and his operating system, OS One by Element Software, later known as Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), few among the film’s enthusiastic reviewers have explored how the relationship ends.
It’s at this point that we’ll warn you to look away if you don’t want the plot spoiled.