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Siri co-creator: 'don't hold your breath' for the AI in 'Her'

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HER promotional still (WARNER BROS.)
HER promotional still (WARNER BROS.)

Only a few people are truly qualified to evaluate the technological merits of Samantha, Joaquin Phoenix's A.I. co-star in Spike Jonze's film Her. One of these people is most certainly Dag Kittlaus, co-creator of Siri. In an op-ed for Variety, he asks "Can Siri catch up?"

"Maybe," he says, "but don't hold your breath."

"Samantha never made a mistake."

Kittlaus was as amused by Scarlett Johansson's Samantha as the rest of us, but questions how possible building such a computer would be. "Samantha never made a mistake," he says. "That's tough to do in a loud, raucous world. Especially in loud places such as the circus scene, where you can barely hear the person next to you, let alone get the exact nuance of every word as you share the pandemonium through an earpiece." Kittlaus should know: Siri is quickly foiled by loud environments.

Setting aside background noise, what about the scene where Phoenix takes Samantha on a date at a carnival (in his shirt pocket) and she proceeds to make detailed observations about his surroundings? "That would entail massively scaled real-time image recognition, spatial understanding, facial and mood recognition," Kittlaus says, "as well as understanding the subtleties of thousands of social scenarios in order to predict that the couple sitting at the table were on a first date."

"I don't even need to mention the complexities of building a program that's adept at verbal phone sex," he adds. Kittlaus never explicitly rules out the possibility of Samantha or something like her coming into existence — he just wants to make sure he's given due credit. He says, "Siri was a little bit Her before Scarlett was a little bit Samantha."