Pop Cultural Identity Management: Her

As part of Biometric Software month, this week on PCIM we are going to take a look at some very realistic ideas about what the technology of the near future will hold for us.

Though generally on this blog – simply due to the sheer number of examples available – I like to explore the idea that biometrics in the media are inaccurately represented because there is nothing interesting about a locked door, today we are going to look are a recent example of pop culture getting it right.

Why Don’t You Go Marry Your Mobile If You Love it So Much?

Movie poster for Spike Jonze's HerIn Her, the 2014 Oscar nominated movie by filmmaker Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix  plays a lonely man who falls in love with his mobile operating system. The film explores the emotional connections that we form with our technology and human proclivities for individual attention, and it is just simply a movie worth watching.

Something extra that techies will get out of Her is a look into the near future of mobile technology and speech recognition. No, I am not claiming that soon artificially intelligent smartphones will be having to fight for marriage rights (let’s cross that bridge when it gets a little closer), I am talking about the technology that the characters use throughout the movie in their everyday lives.

Monkey Say, Smartphone Do

There are two primary situations in which biometric software is being used during Her’s 126 minute play time, both illustrate ideal uses of voice recognition.

Prior to his OS upgrade of love, Phoenix’s character, Theodore, is shown with a very small mobile device. A look at the background actors and supporting cast makes it clear, this is the standard mobile trend in the future: tiny mobiles that are simply too small to feature a keyboard.

That restriction is no problem. The software in this future utopia allows for seamless and accurate voice control. Not once during the movie does it miss read Theodore’s instructions, leaving him left to explain away a communication error with the phrase: “Ugh, sorry, it was my autocorrect.”

The speech recognition technology in the world of Her is so well developed and integrated in to everyday life, that talking has replaced typing. Theodore works for a letter writing company and does all of this text-making with the power of his voice.

A Convenient Future, Right Now

Her is one of those rare movies that shows an accurate depiction of how life with consumer biometrics will be: mostly things will be more convenient.

It’s not too far away either. Have you seen the announcement video for Google’s wearable technology OS, Android Wear? Android smartwatches – like the sleek looking Moto 360  – are going to allow users to text and email with their voice.

Some of this software already exists. The newest version of the Dragon Mobile Assistant from Nuance Communications not only allows for voice based interfacing, it now uses the company’s voice print technology to make sure that it is only responding to a specific user’s voice.

The use of biometrics in Her fit into the world so well that it is easy to see it as a picture our own future as being similar. It is an attractive use of biometrics that fulfills an innate need for convenience. Spike Jonze’s film stands out not only as a rare positive example of biometric technology in the media, but it stands out as being an accurate depiction of where we are heading.

It is unlikely that we will be falling in love with the personalities of our operating systems, but it will be hard not to become infatuated with the convenient software that is just around the corner.

May 23, 2014 – by Peter B. Counter

Do you have a favorite instance of biometrics in pop culture you would like to see in this blog? Contact Peter B. Counter through the findBIOMETRICS about page and let him know via email.

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