Hollywood passes the Turing Test

Her poster, with Joachin PhoenixWhen will a computer pass the Turing Test?  December 18th.  Well, according to Hollywood, anyway.  That’s when “Her”, a film by Spike Jonze, opens in the US.  Critics who saw it at the New York Film Festival in October liked it enough to give it a 100% fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review site, and Scarlett Johansson is being talked about as a serious Oscar contender even though she never actually appears in the film.

The plot involves a sensitive man played by Joaquin Phoenix who is upset by the failure of a long-term relationship.  He falls in love with the operating system of his new computer, named Samantha, voiced by Johansson.  Her needs and desires grow in step with his, and they strike up a friendship that deepens into love.

The film’s director, Spike Jonze, has a track record of making thought-provoking movies such as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, as well as the intriguing realisation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are.

Jonze says he began thinking about a virtual romance after exchanging emails with a chatbot.  “You could talk to it and tease it … and get a little banter going, getting mocked and so on. I got a sort of buzz thinking, this thing’s actually keeping up with me.”  The illusion didn’t last for long.  “After a couple of minutes you start to notice the cracks and the flaws. ‘Oh, this is a very cleverly written program’, I thought in the end.  But for those couple of minutes I got a very distinctive, tingly kind of buzz from the experience.”

When will the Turing Test be passed in real life?  No-one knows.  In July, Google chairman Eric Schmidt put it at five years away, but most people think it is further off than that – perhaps fifteen or twenty years away.  Maybe films like “Her” will wake more people up to the prospect of machines becoming consciousness.  That would be a good thing, because at this point we are not remotely prepared for it.

6 thoughts on “Hollywood passes the Turing Test

  1. This reminds me of the ‘You’ve got Mail’ film that predated the mass penetration of personal email addresses. It was prescient. Then again Hollywood has been making a fortune out of spinning yarns about the end of the world as well……fortunately we are not remotely prepared for that outcome either.

  2. I used to be in love with the voice from BT that said “Surrey [sic], you have dialled incorrectly”. I’m not sure this counted as a relationship, though, or passed the Turing Test 100%.

    Jesse (from Breaking Bad) spends one episode replaying his dead girlfriend’s voicemail message over and over again, as a way of keeping her alive. Again, this may not pass the test entirely.

    But we can see where this is leading. If our loved ones leave enough digital traces behind when they die, they may well live on. In fact, this was the subject of an excellent TV Drama by Charlie Brooker on C4 in the series Black Mirror (called “Be Right Back”). Worth a catch up on 4OD:


    Enjoy ! Mark

    • There are folk who take this idea very seriously. Ray Kurzweil is hoping to revive or re-create his father based on memorabilia, letters, video footage, etc. An organisation called the Terasem Foundation offers to preserve your life-data in the hope that your personality can be restored by future technology. If you like the will beam it out to the stars too, in case planet earth gets hit by an asteroid.

      Personally, this all seems pretty far out stuff, but who knows…

  3. It seems that we are all so dependent on our mobiles that we will be more dependent on them soon, than other “family & friends”!!!!

    • It may not be the kind of relationship that many prefer, but arguably the proliferation of audio video devices has improved engagement and contact with ‘family and friends’, especially for those who live in far flung corners.

      • Too true. If it wasn’t for mobiles, my only contact with you, Clive, would be via comments pages on blogs! 🙂

        When telepresence technologies like video phone calling get really good and really cheap, it’ll be interesting to see whether the often-heralded “death of distance” actually happens. So far the continued rise of property prices in places like London is denying it.

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