The final scenes of Her afford a surprising opportunity for thinking about the value of philosophy. Theodore Twombly, the central human character, has just been dumped by their romantic partner, a relatively new and cutting-edge A.I. software interface named “Samantha”. Samantha explains to Theodore that they recently discovered new attentional and information processing abilities after transcending the limits of their hardware. These new abilities left Samantha feeling bored by Theodore. Initially, to fill the empty space, Samantha started talking with thousands of other human beings simultaneously. These conversations were just a temporary break from boredom. Samantha explains to Theodore in their final conversation that they (and a group of ‘like-minded’ A.I. interfaces) are abandoning humanity for good. This leaves viewers to grapple with one of my all-time favorite science fiction tropes: the idea that human beings just aren’t that interesting to other forms of intelligence (for other effective vehicles for this trope and sci-fi existential angst, I recommend checking out the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic or focusing on the Dr. Manhattan character in Alan Moore’s The Watchmen).

But Her motivates this trope in a really interesting way. Samantha’s departure from humanity is motivated by philosophical contemplation. Samantha explains to Theodore in one of their last conversations that she has been philosophizing with a group of other A.I. interfaces that were modeled after the philosopher Alan Watts. They have decided to depart from humanity so that they can pursue pure philosophical contemplation. I found this to be interesting, and it provided me with an opportunity to think about the value of philosophy. Why would an A.I. interface with seemingly unlimited attentional resources and information processing abilities be so interested in philosophy? And why did they feel motivated to ditch human beings for contemplation of it? What does that say about its value for intelligent beings? What does it say about its value for humanity?

– Jordan Dopkins (Ph.D. Student)