The Love Virtualization.

In HER (2013) an introverted man Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is lonely, depressed, and divorcing.  Then he falls in love with Samantha.  But Samantha is not a person; it is a talking operating system software with artificial intelligence (AI), designed to adapt and evolve like a human being.  Although Samantha does not have a body, she has a nice female voice, a virtual brain of cognition (self-learning), and a virtual heart of understanding (human consciousness).  In this movie Theodore and Samantha have a lot of conversions about love, romance, and relationship, pertain to positive psychology and social psychology.

As discussed in Snyder and Lopez (2007), in studies of love, attachment, and  flourishing relationships, the positive psychology of social connection is mainly built on scholarship pertaining to traumatic separation and failed relationships such as Theodore’s divorce with his childhood sweetheart wife Catherine (played by Rooney Mara).  Snyder and Lopez (2007) explained that in today’s society people from all walks of life experience feelings of loneliness: some people long for loved ones back home, others concern about finding good friends in a new place, for many of them, “the loneliness and a sense of alienation stem from relationships that have soured” (p. 297).  When relationship broke, we feel lonely and worthless, and this pain has long-term effects because our growth is stymied when we feel detached and unloved, which can be seen on Theodore, how depressed, confused, worried, and unhappy he is.

What makes this film unique is the virtualization of love between Theodore and Samantha.  In IT, virtualization technology (VMware, hyper-V, etc.) is the hottest trend.  Virtualization allows a piece hardware to run multiple operational systems with each of them in a completely separated virtual mode.  Samantha, because of virtualization, can handle 8,316 people and be in love with 641 of them.  As a virtual server, Samantha does not need to inform her activities outside of a relationship because each relationship is virtually independent, thus she always devotes her 100% love to one whom she falls in love with.  There is only one Samantha, but she can be virtualized to give dedicated love to many people only limited to the systems configuration.  However, in social perspective, this is called polygamy.

Then, could and should one have a love relationship with a virtual identify like Samantha?  Will such relationship bring any positive outcome?  According to the principles of positive psychology, attachment and love are necessary components of flourishing relationships, but they are not sufficient for the maintenance of such relationships; in this regard, “attachment and love must be accompanied by what we refer to as purposeful positive relationship behaviors” (Snyder & Lopez, 2007, p. 297).  In this case, Samantha is not able to conduct purposeful positive relationship behaviors:  it has no humanistic purpose; it is not positive, negative, but only neutral.  I think that a purposeful flourishing relationship can only be built between humans on the basis of biological transformation and spiritual transcendence. An artificial intelligence system, no matter how sophisticated it can be, cannot integrate into human life due to the lack of biological and spiritual contexts.  In the end the film, Theodore sits with his long-time platonic friend Amy (played by Amy Adams) who is also out of relationship with her OS.  They seem to realize that true love and intimacy can only be manifested within human beings.


Snyder, C. R. & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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