Artificial intelligence: Is it for real?

NEW YORK — In the upcoming movie “Her,” Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore Twombly, a lonely tech company staffer who falls for Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). She’s smart, funny and sexy, but there’s a catch: Samantha is the voice of an operating system.

“Her,” sometimes nicknamed “The Siri Movie,” envisions a very near future in which machines have become so human that it’s difficult to tell them apart. “Her” also tells an age-old story: Man’s attempt to create artificial intelligence.

Generally speaking, A.I. stories end badly — for man, machine or both. In that “Twilight Zone” installment, Corry watches his beloved reduced to a mass of twitching circuits. In the 1982 film “Blade Runner,” man-made replicants develop human sentience, only to suffer spiritual agony; that theme would resurface in Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.,” starring Haley Joel Osment as a man-made child.

But Spike Jonze, who wrote and directed “Her,” is not your typical storyteller. His strange, surreal movies (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) rarely go where expected. Is it possible that the human and the server-based Samantha will escape the fate that usually awaits their kind?


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