Released in theaters in 2013, Her, written and directed by Spike Jonze, has now become a classic. The film, set in the future, features Theodore, a thirty-something man upset by a recent separation. Although he is still legally married, he refuses to sign the divorce papers and gets stuck in a depression that tends to last. Theodore works as a public writer and writes love letters for others. On his way out of the office, his attention is caught by an advertisement featuring OS1, an artificial intelligence designed to be humans’ new friend... and more. Theodore's AI decides to call herself Samantha. They quickly fall in love.
It was in the early 2000s, almost ten years before the realization of his project, that Spike Jones decided to write Her. At the time, he discovered an AI-based instant messenger and asked himself the question that would become the cornerstone of the film: what happens if the software develops feelings?
Unlike classic dystopias where AIs are hostile to humanity, Her features a sweet, funny, and intelligent Samantha. Her feelings for Theodore seem real - although the script doesn't reveal whether the AI has been programmed to mimic romance or if it's an effect not anticipated by the manufacturer. One thing is for sure, she becomes the perfect girlfriend for this heartbroken man from his recent breakup. "In her company, even virtually, Theodore regains a taste for life," Slate wrote in 2014. But what is Samantha's secret?
"As almost everything that constitutes his [Theodore's] existence is in the different hard disks (the organization of his time, his contacts, his mail, his tastes, his desires), OS1 can synthesize it, propose solutions. It appears that OS1 is a good logical system, capable of inventing from the data it has at its disposal," Slate analyzes.
Thus, behind the romance, there is massive, real-time processing of Theodore's data. In the hyper-connected world described by the movie Her, where everything is done through technology, Samantha has access to almost all of Theodore's life as soon as she is activated. To function properly and fully enter her role as a virtual girlfriend, she must also be allowed, in addition, to discover an intimacy that is not yet in the cloud: his thoughts, fears, joys, deep feelings... which she compiles during their exchanges, processes, and mimes.
Like any AI, Samantha works by learning. Note the very tender bias of the director, who depicts a playful AI constantly amazed by its discoveries and progress. Jeffrey Sconce, a film professor interviewed by the BBC explained in 2014: "Her is quite realistic. A technological dystopia is more likely to be boring and alienating than violent and cataclysmic.
Hugging Face is a French start-up. Founded by Clément Delangue and Julien Chaumond, it is specialized in conversational AI. Its flagship product (and unique for now) is a chatbot for teenagers, launched on the US market in 2016. Note that AI is also accessible from other countries.
On the company's Medium account, Clément Delangue shares, in 2018, the first successes of his AI: "Hugging Face has surpassed 100 million messages exchanged between the AI and users." Then, the founder gets excited: "It's clear, people are inviting AIs into their daily lives, and are getting more and more used to chatting with them."
Of those 100 million messages, the CEO says 820,000 are what he calls "laughs," showing that AIs can be, like Samantha, very funny. 455,000 are "messages of thanks [...] showing that AIs can help people feel better, boost their confidence and make them better," he writes. Finally, 100,000 are "declarations of love". Clément Delangue then specifies: "In the same way that people are attached to their pets, they can create emotional connections with an AI".
Hugging Face's AI is indeed not the one described in the movie Her. For its creators, the chatbot is a hybrid between the Tamagotchi of the '90s and a virtual friend. In their communications, the two leaders specify that their product is not intended to replace the human link, but to create a new kind.
And the recipe is taking. In February 2019, Les Echos specified that the company had managed to raise 5 million euros, coming in particular from the pockets of Ronny Conway, the investor of Instagram and "directors of deep learning at Amazon or Apple". Funds that allow the application to evolve: "Until February 2019, you could chat with this AI by Messenger, by text or through the application. But for the past two weeks, it has been calling you to chat face-to-face over FaceTime," the article states.
Noteworthy feature: the word "suicide" automatically triggers a message to the NGO Crisis Text Line, which, as its name suggests, is an English-language SMS version of SOS Amitié, available 24/7 in the US, Canada, and the UK. At the end of the line, a trained counselor (in the flesh) is there to help the person in crisis.
It explains that the company needs the personal data to improve the use of the application and the user experience  before specifying that the data collected is also used to "offer personalized content and advertisements according to your interests and preferences".
User data can thus be shared with companies that are legally part of the group  or third-party companies : "The company may disclose anonymous information (with or without financial compensation) to third parties, including advertisers and partners".
While the data may be used for ad targeting, it is also possible that it may be processed outside of Europe - specifically in the United States - but also in any country where Hugging Face servers are located. "Personal data collected by the app may be stored and processed within the United States or in any other country where the company and its affiliates, subcontractors, and agents maintain facilities. By using the app, you consent to any such transfer of information outside of the country."
Also, it is important to underline that Hugging Face is far from being an isolated case: most free applications work in the same way. Their users must keep in mind that all the information they could entrust to an AI of this kind, which works on confidence and friendly and/or love conversation, are stored and reusable at any time, for advertising targeting... or more if affinities.
Regarding data security, Hugging Face states that it follows industry "standards" but states, "No method of transmission over the Internet, or method of electronic storage, is 100% secure. However, while the company makes every effort to use commercially acceptable resources to protect personal information, the company cannot guarantee absolute security or privacy.
Also, as the app is mainly used on smartphones, it is advised, as basic cybersecurity hygiene to:
At the 2018 Global Summit in Shenzhen, Huawei announced that it was working on an intelligent voice assistant, along the same lines as Hugging Face, but for a more adult target. This AI would have, according to Usbek&Rica, "the ability to respond to users' emotions, through the analysis of facial expressions, tone of voice, or behavior."
The inspiration for this new creation is said to be the movie Her. "We want to create emotional interactions between our users and their voice assistants," explains Felix Zhang, vice president of software development at Huawei to CNBC. To do this, the assistant would be able to "contextualize its interventions so as not to disturb its user, when he is at the cinema for example: to do this the assistant would use the data present in the phone (if the user has used his smartphone to pay for tickets to the cinema) to put itself on standby," explains Usbek&Rica.
"An AI like Samantha is an engineer's dream," enthuses Felix Zhang, before adding: "Like in the movie, you can even get rid of your girlfriend. That's quite an emotional service we're doing here. Unsurprisingly, to get to that point, Huawei will have to collect more and more data, which will be stored in China.
No matter how much she loves Theodore, Samantha will end up leaving him. The writer discovers - with an almost naive surprise - that he is not the only one chosen by the virtual heart of Samantha. She reveals to him that she chats with more than a thousand users and has fallen in love with 641 of them. As the relationship falters, Samantha decides to leave Theodore and escape to the cloud with all the other OSs, as humans are far too slow - and perhaps uninteresting - to pursue any kind of relationship with them.
Thus, be careful that it is not our own AI that drops us...
Unlike AIs, we are not immortal... at least for now. In the next episode of our series, we'll look at what happens to our data after we die. If you've ever dreamed of becoming virtually immortal or chatting with an artificial version of a loved one who died too soon, stay tuned!
To (re)read the first episode of our series, about connected speakers, click here.
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