Artificial Intelligence. AI. You know it's coming, and we've been conditioned to think it's going manifest itself by machines taking over the world like we've seen in moves like The Matrix and the the Terminator series.
But what if the revolution is much more subtle, at least at the start? What if artificial intelligence really comes online through the devices we've been trained to interact with for 12 hours a day?
That's right, the revolution will likely come via smartphone, delivered by a personal assistant who learns your preferences, weakness and emotional IQ and delivers a customized experience to you that makes you start to think that real people suck. The perfect person is the personality and intellect delivered by a Siri-type of digital assistant, about 10 generations/versions removed from the one you have.
Enter the new movie Her, directed by Spike Jonze. “Her” is Samantha, or rather “Samantha”—a computer/smartphone operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson and developed some time in the near future and purchased by Theodore (played by a withdrawn/introverted Joaquin Phoenix), who of course falls in love with her.
A Siri-like technology as found in Her is going to make employee engagement achievable. How? One of the big Gallup items on engagement is the answer to "I have a best friend at work."
Guess what sparky? Your best friend could be your smart phone, and it could help you extract maximum engagement from work. Because let's face it, humans can't. More from a feature on the movie and imagined technology from the New Republic:
"In Jonze’s near future, computers, smartphones, and other devices are voice-activated, and users wear a small headset in one of their ears as they mumble their way through the streets. At first Theodore’s devices run on an operating system that requires him to speak simple commands such as “Read email” or “Delete,” but soon he upgrades to a new, artificially intelligent operating system, called OS1 and produced by a company called Element Software. The selling point for OS1 is its ability to learn and mature through experience, growing smarter and more sophisticated with use. “It’s not just an OS. It’s a consciousness”—so goes the tagline for OS1, and note the pronoun choice.
Jonze skips directly to Theodore booting up the new OS, which, in Johansson’s voice, identifies herself (I feel manipulated using that word, but itself seems impossible) as Samantha. She reads his emails, edits his work, reminds him that he has an appointment in five minutes, but soon the relationship deepens: when Theodore goes on a date with a woman—an actual woman, not an OS with a woman’s voice—he’d clearly rather be with his gadget.
Samantha, by this point, is speaking to Theodore in the language of feelings and desires—what she “wants” from him, how she “needs” him. And you could have lots of philosophical fun debating whether an artificial intelligence can have emotions or merely exhibits behaviors that look like emotions. (As Jonze cunningly appreciates, the computer gets the benefit of the doubt when it has the voice of Scarlett Johansson.) You can ask, too, about the value of Theodore’s love for Samantha—which Jonze depicts not only as legitimate but as morally improving. Yet what makes Her so powerful and so scary is that these admittedly important questions obscure, by design, the deeper and darker issues of economics, law and citizenship that such software raises."
Me? I automatically think about life at work. If a technology can make an introverted dork fall in love with it, can't it generally make us feel great about our careers, our contribution to our companies, etc? Can't it be on the lookout for our professional development? Can it make us think someone cares?
You know - all the things that have to happen to make us feel engaged. Will discretionary effort follow?
I'd probably bet everything I have that a super smart Siri that could be customized to help me maximize my outcomes at work and also care about me would hit big in the employment world.
I'd buy it right now if it was available in that flavor. But the voice I would choose wouldn't be Scarlett Johansson, because I'm not looking for love. Instead, I'd probably seek the comfort of Ari Gold - because I'd be looking for a career agent.
Trailer for "Her" below (email subscribers click through for the video).