In the recent Spike Jonze film “Her,” a lonely man buys a futuristic Siri-style computer program designed to interact fluently with humans. The program’s female voice speaks intimately to its owner through an earpiece, while also organizing his e-mails and keeping track of his appointments, until eventually he falls in love with it. Watching it happen is unsettling because of how well the program works on our human protagonist—how powerfully this computerized, disembodied simulation of a woman affects him.
The piece of software at the heart of “Her” only exists within a work of science fiction, of course—one set in a comfortably vague point in the future. While today’s smartphones and computers do “talk” to their users, they do so without the emotionally potent and slightly unpredictable qualities that might make a machine feel human.