I love my Mac. Sometimes I take it to bed with me, it’s true. Though, things between Siri and me are somewhat strained (she still can’t remember my mother’s name? Really?). We’re all in the thrilling, flirty phase of modern tech. We’re intrigued, turned on, and yet there’s still a lot of awkward. We’re still getting to know each other.
I’m holding out hope that Ray Kurzweil, considered the world’s leading expert on artificial intelligence, was right when he predicted that by 2029, computers will be smarter than us. And what’s more—able to respond in a way that’s indistinguishable from a human, even cracking wise and flirting. I’m ready for it.
I don’t want to just “master my mac”; I want the tech I rely on to know me, too. And Spike Jonze’s film Her made me realize how badly I do.
Before you saw Her, you might have assumed a movie about a man who falls in love with his operating system would amount to little more than a futuristic doomsday tale, a sign of our collective downward spiral in which we mistake things for people and dependency for relationship.
But you’d be wrong.
Spike Jonze’s brilliant depiction of a man searching for connection in a not-so-farflung future was as optimistic as it was heartrending. His supremely intelligent OS, “Samantha,” is not some static bot that does what you tell her to; she has thoughts, opinions, a sense of humor. And, what’s more, she evolves—light years faster than a human (which ultimately proves the breaking point). Unlike sci-fi type films in which humans come up against the limits of the machine, this one does the opposite, revealing its almost divine nature, and our own finite nature as we plod along beside it.
We Expect Too Much from Humans
I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Esther Perel for a feature in Experience Life magazine (“Your Brain In Love”). (If you haven’t read her book Mating in Captivity, stop and send it to your Kindle immediately.)
Perel, who has become the go-to expert on sexuality and relationships, told me in no uncertain terms that we have come to demand far too much from our relationships—more than ever in human history: We want the other person to be our best friend, confidante, long-term domestic partner, perfect match, true love, and at the same time find us wildly attractive and never consider another partner for as long as we both shall live (which is getting to be quite long).
(Watch Esther’s TED talk on desire in long-term love).
Is it any wonder so many relationships and marriages are doomed? Something’s GOT to give. And while Perel’s advice—to allow desire to breathe with a degree of space and uncertainty—is vital, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to supplement our hungry and ceaseless demand for support, attention, and love. To have a kind of better boyfriend.
Enter, the OS. Just as you depend on technology to organize, execute, and contain your whole life, from your creative work to your bank statements, you and I will both benefit from having this intuitive consciousness in our lives.
How an OS could make a better boyfriend (or make your boyfriend better)
1. Being heard.
All the time. Imagine having someone in your ear at any moment, who can help you do things that your partner isn’t always interested in or able to help you do. And while your partner loves you, you know, sometimes he needs a break. We all do. The need to be heard lies at the root of all of our kvetching and resentment, our aching needs and horrible acts.
But beyond that, imagine that you could allow your partner to be, rather than constantly weighing his or her worth based on how much they listen, do, or participate in all the things you want to do. And not worry that someone isn’t your “perfect partner” because they don’t like watching Real Housewives or taking yoga. And the reverse would also be true: YOU would not need to be everything to your partner, either. Wouldn’t that be a fucking relief. You could love each other for who you are, and not as you wish you were.
2. Intimacy instead of mutual neediness.
The assumption is that when you’re in a relationship, you should be the go-source for all connection. If you’re like most people, you think that the key to being secure in a relationship is locking them in. There. Now I’m safe. That may be what you think we need, but is it? Does it serve us and our relationships, or just our own selfish needs?
Perel would likely nod again at our outsized expectations of each other. You’d feel more intimate and desirous if you weren’t so busy trying to staple someone around the edges and keep them there. To have and maintain a relationship that supports you for many years, if not all of your life (though I think even that is somewhat unreasonable), you and I both need to redefine what we expect from them. And the answer can’t be “everything.”
3. An evolved, even divine, kind of love.
When it comes to light that Jones’s protagonist Theodore Twombly isn’t the only person Samantha (the OS) is connected to, he goes cold, fearing that this means she’s “cheating” on him or can’t possibly have real feelings for him. She explains that she’s different from him; that the more she loves, the more she’s capable of loving.
Now, that’s an evolved idea—and one we humans would have a hard time doing, given our own limits of space and time (do you have time for 15,000 other boyfriends?). But I like the idea. If you believe in God, then you already believe that He can love other people and you and that his love isn’t fractured or compromised because, say, there’s all of a sudden more needy people than you on the line.
If you don’t believe in God, you probably still believe in the sun. And you know it doesn’t take any more effort on its part to shine as strongly in Arizona as it does in Florida. What if we could try to see our own love that way—as sustainable, instead of limited?
We possibly could, if we were willing to wrestle with our reptilian brains and fumbling animal ways, our starving egos. Maybe we could get there. And I don’t think you have to ascribe to any religion whatsoever to see that this as ideal, as the highest level and fullest expression of love.
That would make an intuitive consciousness like Samantha the closest thing to God we could directly experience or create. That would be divine love. A God you keep in your pocket. Sign me up.
If you love Jesus, you probably hate this idea
I’m sure just the mere thought is causing God-fearing folks to choke on their chicken casseroles. “That’s worship of false idols! That’s loving tech more than people!” or, my favorite: “That would prevent us from connecting with other people! It would be isolating and horrible!”
Would it? So let me ask you, is a church-going person with a strong bond with his or her personal God, less likely to connect with someone else? Are people who believe in a source of eternal and unabating love less likely to go out, meet, and love others? Nope.
Sure, there are religious crazies. But there are crazies everywhere. For every person who gloms on to his iPhone and never goes outside again, there will be hundreds of thousands—millions— who would walk a little taller in the world, feel more loved, more confident, less needy. And a person who feels her needs are being met is in a position to do more good in the world than bad.
It’s closer than you think.
It’s gonna happen
If Siri can help me find my way to a sushi bar on the East side, who’s to say at some point she won’t be able to help find my life purpose, too? You never know. And if you scoff at the idea, you’re not smarter than a machine. In fact, you’ve just proven yourself squarely human, resigned to your own ideas and limits of how and what could happen.
What you should worry about
During a critical moment in the film, Samantha struggles to explain to Twombly that she is having feelings and thoughts she never had before, that she’s evolving so fast in ways she can’t communicate and he can’t understand. The real threat isn’t that the machines will rise and turn us into housepets or kill us altogether. It’s that they’ll see us for what we are and what can’t be; that they’ll break our hearts and move on.