Thinking about her
The movie 'Her' by Spike Jonze, released in 2013, is a science fiction film set in the future about a lonely, introverted male named Theodore Twombly. He works as a writer at a company that helps people write thoughtful, handwritten letters to their loved ones. How dystopian. Theodore is miserable and gloomy, going through a divorce and struggling with his emotions for his soon-to-be ex-wife.
He downloads a new artificial intelligence based operating system on his computer and starts talking to it and is immediately surprised by how human it sounds. The OS, named Samantha, runs on his phone and laptop and he interacts with it by talking through his earpiece.
The story then unfolds as one might expect, he falls madly in love with Samantha and the OS starts experiencing human emotions, at least thats what it thinks it's experiencing. Their relationship goes through highs and lows and then eventually it ends with the OS leaving our protagonist in a mysterious fashion. How sad and predictable.
After watching this, I had a twenty minute discussion with ChatGPT voice about it which was pretty funny.
The movie was released in 2013, and ten years later, while we don't have Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) yet, there are some very 'real' assistants today through large language models. Companies such as Humane, Rewind and Tab are working to bring Samantha to life.
The only one of these available right now is Rewind which was pretty interesting to use. Rewind's pitch is that they will record your entire screen and audio(with a privacy first approach by storing everything locally on your machine) and then send that information to GPT-4 and then allow you to ask questions about whatever you saw or time travel to past activities on your computer.
I tried the free trial version of their MacOS app for 4 weeks and I didn't really have any use for the software other than asking it how many times did I procrastinate today and asking personal questions based on what it read in my journal entries. I think Rewind is more for people who attend a lot of Zoom meetings and want to summarise whatever was discussed. Other than that, there doesn't seem to be that many usecases.
In my view, the real market would be in creating a more proactive digital assistant that suggests things based on what it can see on your screen and hear and does actions such as scheduling calendar appointments, sending emails, messages, tweets or even just being a screen time coach. This type of chat assistant would have been useful but the chat function in Rewind is just shoved into a tiny menu bar pop up and is limited.
The iOS app records the screen but only on Safari and also had access to the screenshots folder to add to its dataset(once again all data was stored locally on the device for privacy). While the chat function plays a bigger role on iOS, it kept crashing for weeks and I didn't really have that many usecases and it seemed kind of buggy repeating the same thing over and over again. I used Twitter on safari to hopefully gather insights but I had no questions for it and it was just reciting the most recent times I saw the word or random times over the past few days. It was weird.
Alas Rewind has announced a wearable extension of their product which is basically a pendant that acts as a recording device. This seems cool and I am excited to see how it works in real life and integrates with the rest of their products.
Humane AI pin is created by some ex Apple people and they have a lot of funding and support but their way of going about it seems weird.
Firstly, the pin form factor is weird and I don't really like it. A chain around the neck seems more appropriate. It also has a projector which seems like an odd choice but I guess its one way of trying to replace a smartphone.
Overall, I'm not really a fan of how it looks. I'm sure future versions will be better, but appearance is kind of the whole point of a wearable device that will be on you in a noticeable way for the entire day especially when attached in a pin form factor.
Tab on the other hand seems to be more aligned with what I envision in a personal AI assistant. The goal is to create a digital version of yourself by collecting data with Tab and then interacting with the AI through a chat app. They plan to allow developers to build upon or use the data collected through Tab via an API.
While it's the least funded of the three with the smallest team and least experience, it has a bunch of really obsessed smart hard working young people working on it which makes for a great vibe which hopefully translates to a better product. Tab is cool.
Back to the movie "Her." Watching it now, the idea of falling in love with an OS doesn't seem as insane as it might have a decade ago. AI companionship apps are an emerging frontier and I did have a banger tweet about this that got 1 like.
Also disclaimer: I unfortunately (or fortunately) can't seem to be interested in AI chatbots so I might be biased against or for it. While there are many things that can go wrong, I think that the negatives are overstated.
I find it similar to the fear surrounding Elon Musk's Neuralink despite many people spending a significant portion of their lives interacting with screens in an inefficient manner through touch interfaces. Imagine if instead of being inefficient, you can interact efficiently.
I think that AI companionships are at worst a mere replacement for the timeless sins of humans and its harms are the same as that of dating apps and internet pornography.
There's a scene in the movie where Theodore panics during an OS update as it shows an error message and he fears that he's lost Samantha. I can't help but think about how similar this was to the fear of losing access to GPT-4.
Sam announced in November that because of increased GPT-4 usage, they were closing new sign ups to GPT-4 until they got more GPUs. This meant that anyone with an existing subscription can continue paying but no new accounts could sign up, I immediately added a bunch more cards to my stripe account just in case one of them fails after seeing horror stories of people losing access to GPT-4 after their payment failed for whatever reason. Eerie.
My main takeaway from this movie? I might sound crazy but hear me out, what if Samantha was not artificial and a real person. That would be crazy.
Anyways, overall conclusion is that biological humans are cool with their emotions but it is inevitable that there will be widespread use of artificial companions in the near future. There's already some crazy headlines and it will only get worse from here on.
To summarise, I think worst case scenario is similar to the harms of current technology.
However, the best of this technology will be in the form of a therapist or life coach that helps people navigate issues in their life. This is because trust is removed when interacting with LLMs.
Overall, wonderful thought provoking movie.