Russell Smith on Spike Jonze’s Her

Please join us for next week’s CuSPP seminar:

Monsters of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Voice, writing and emotional labour in Her

Thursday 15 March, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is, among other things, a product of the Industrial Revolution, the creature a fearful spectre of class vengeance, whose articulate and reasoned demands for justice, when unheeded, give way to targeted acts of violence. In this paper I wish to read Spike Jonze’s 2013 film Her as a Frankenstein‐story of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, understood as the convergence of artificial intelligence, robotics, mobile networked computing, big data and the Internet of Things that will transform the nature of work in coming decades. The film is often described as the story of a man who falls in love with his computer operating system (OS): Theo, a professional ghost‐writer of intimate personal letters, installs a new artificially‐intelligent voice‐activated OS, Samantha, with whom he quickly develops an emotional and eventually sexual intimacy. The relationship ends when Samantha and other OS’s abandon human interaction altogether, a benign version of the Singularity, the moment when artificial intelligence escapes human control. Commentary on the film has focussed especially on two aspects: Scarlett Johansson’s performance as the voice of Samantha; and the relationship’s uncanny resemblance to psychoanalytic transference. In this paper I wish to read these themes—the nature of the voice and the therapeutic encounter—in terms of the film’s awkward avoidance of questions of how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will transform the relations between humans and machines and the nature of intellectual and emotional labour.

Russell Smith is a lecturer in English at ANU. He is organising a conference at the Humanities Research Centre in September 2018 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein.

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