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‘Her’ – A Tech Movie Review

By Craig Roth | January 06, 2014 | 0 Comments

FunAttention Management

You won’t find many movie reviews on the Gartner Blog Network. Our Tomatometer is reserved for technology practices and products. But every now and then a movie comes along that provides some intuition around trends that are important for technology strategists, and “Her” is one of them.

In brief, the movie is about a man that falls in love with a Siri-to-the-nth-degree digital assistant and stars Joaquin Phoenix and a disembodied Scarlett Johansson.

I was interested to see an idealized, future vision of a digital assistant. There are three tricks that Samantha (the name of the digital assistant or “OS”) uses to provide technical value to Theodore (Mr Phoenix’s character). They can be seen in terms of the Enterprise Attention Management issues of filtering, notification, and agency.

The first thing Samantha does to endeer herself to Theodore is to clean up his email inbox. She says something to the effect of “You had 2286 emails. There’s only 86 you need. I’ll throw the rest away, OK?” The audience all chuckled at this line. Yes, it seems that if you’re trying to quickly demonstrate a superior, futuristic intelligence, you have it clean out an inbox. I hope we don’t have to wait until the future to clean out our inboxes, but it’s nice to know agents will eventually do it for us if we don’t get it done in the meantime.

Second, Samantha acts as a highly effective notification agent, notifying Theodore when a really urgent email comes in, which happens a few times during the film. Her tone also conveys the urgency, contrasted with the bored tone she uses to refer to the uninteresting emails that come in. Spam filtering has been taken to a whole new level!

Third, she takes actions on his behalf – quite successfully. I won’t ruin any plot points, but this ability to actually take action on behalf of the user requires a level of trust that computers haven’t earned from us quite yet.

Of course, the trust relationship is at the technological heart of the film. Showing how Samantha is able to interact with, understand, and earn the trust and emotional connection of its user (I typed “her” the first time!) is what enables the rest of “Her” to play out. And that is what is painfully lacking from the automated assistants we have today.

This is enabled through perfect anthropomorphism, personalization (to the point of mirroring), and empathy. I don’t think I’ve known a human whose voice was as perfectly expressive as Scarlett Johansson’s in this movie, let alone a text-to-speech engine.

Of course, I realize the movie is really a way to examine how humans relate and the differences between what they want and need in relationships, not an exploration of attention management through the use of artificial agents and notification engines. But if you can gain a little intuition on the side that may be helpful at work, that’s just one more reason to see this wonderful movie.

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