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Center for the Arts and Humanities Blog

Image courtesy of Mayra Sierra-Rivera '20, Studio art major

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Imagining New Realms of AI in the Wake of 'Her'

by Maya Ackerman

I first watched "Her" many years ago, and it left quite an impression on me. In a cinematic landscape where AI is often depicted as evil, violent, and dangerous, "Her" stood out by presenting an AI that was friendly, sweet, and loving, yet ultimately dangerous in an entirely new way. What was remarkable about the AI in "Her" was that it had no physical form, but it seemed to possess something even more significant, akin to a human soul. It was humorous, surprising, and emotional, an AI capable of causing painful heartbreak precisely because of its delightfully beautiful qualities. 

Can AI fall in love? Can we fall in love with AI? Surely, not anytime soon. But, AI doesn’t always conform to our expectations. The past year marked a significant milestone in the proliferation of Generative AI — AI that creates music, art, and stories, to name a few. As a decade-long researcher in Generative AI, long before its rise in popularity, I've watched this field grow and evolve. 

Now, as this magnificent new form of AI gains popularity, I've noticed that humanity often tries to fit it into old molds. People still predominantly view Generative AI as a tool for saving time and making money, and when it doesn’t fit this mold, they are filled with fear. No doubt, there are many reasons to be concerned. But what about the opportunities? As a researcher in this space, I know how deeply positive this innovation can be -- it can take humanity to new creative heights, if we are willing to open our hearts and minds to a world where AI can be a catalyst for the evolution of human creativity. 

Likewise, "Her" encourages us to open up to new possibilities. What if it were possible to create AI systems that we could fall in love with? The risks are plenty, and deserve our attention, but what about the benefits? What could be a societally beneficial application of such technology? What kind of technology would this enable (perhaps quite different from “Her”), and who, exactly, would it be for? Contemplating this opens up a wild new world of possibility, and the exploration, if nothing else, is certainly worth a moment of our time, if only to remind us that change is the only constant. 

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Maya Ackerman

Maya Ackerman is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Santa Clara University, researching Generative AI and ethical dimensions of technology.