At first glance, it seems that Spike Jonze’s movie Her is about technology because it involves computer coding and takes place in the future. But in reality, it’s not about virtual reality but actually about people and the complexity of human relationships. It’s about a future where technology is more people-centric and made to keep us connected to others instead of objects—where technology is less intrusive, less demanding, and more natural than novelty. And that appears to be the path that technology is taking, which is why UI designers should see the film to see the future. Wired.com examined the movie to explain why life should imitate art.
Since one of the characters is comprised completely of code, Mr. Jonze and his team had to think like designers. They had to focus on the user experience to make technology feel less technical and more personal. Their goal was to make technology fade into the background and provide a service instead of status.
In the movie, it’s hard not to notice how that the lead character’s home seems low tech for the times. Rather than filling the house with sleek digital screens and the latest gadgets, Mr. Jonze strives to show how technology has evolved into understated utility. It’s more about the purpose than the product, with function more important than fancy. The same is seen with smartphones in the film, where the phones don’t need to flaunt their features but instead seamlessly integrate into people’s lives.
A key point of interest is the user interface in Her, since the lead actor talks instead of types. He uses voice control rather than keyboards, which corresponds with the concept of less-intrusive technology. It shows a future that frees us from screens and systems so we can live in the world instead of on the Web. And when the lead actor wants to be online, he simply pops in an earplug, which introduces the idea of an audio-based interface as the future of connectivity. In fact, voice-based UI is already a trend, thanks to iPhone’s Siri and Android Voice Command. It puts everything at your fingertips without having to lift a finger.
Perhaps the primary lesson from Her is how artificial intelligence has evolved to become so real. The film’s romantic relationship seems authentic, yet one side is simply software. But the future’s AI is so advanced that it’s tough to tell fact from fake.
“Anytime you’re dealing with trying to interact with a human, you have to think of humans as operating systems. Very advanced operating systems. Your highest goal is to try to emulate them,” said Her production designer KK Barrett. “You don’t want a machine that’s always telling you the answer. You want one that approaches you like, ‘let’s solve this together.’”
The movie reveals that the greatest asset of AI may be its flexibility in terms of personality. It can systematically sense what a person needs and provide it at a moment’s notice. It’s intuitive, integrated, and improves the user’s life with little flash or fanfare.
And that’s how Her foresees the future of technology—as design being about discretion, rather than distraction.
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