In 2013, Spike Jonze’s Her imagined a world where humans form deep emotional connections with AI, challenging perceptions of love and loneliness. Ten years later, thanks to ChatGPT’s recently added voice features, people are playing out a small slice of Her in reality, having hours-long discussions with the AI assistant on the go.
In 2016, we put Her on our list of top sci-fi films of all time, and it also made our top films of the 2010s list. In the film, Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with an AI personality called Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and he spends much of the film walking through life, talking to her through wireless earbuds reminiscent of Apple AirPods, which launched in 2016. In reality, ChatGPT isn’t as situationally aware as Samantha was in the film, does not have a long-term memory, and OpenAI has done enough conditioning on ChatGPT to keep conversations from getting too intimate or personal. But that hasn’t stopped people from having long talks with the AI assistant to pass the time anyway.
Last week, we related a story in which AI researcher Simon Willison spent a long time talking to ChatGPT verbally. “I had an hourlong conversation while walking my dog the other day,” he told Ars for that report. “At one point, I thought I’d turned it off, and I saw a pelican, and I said to my dog, ‘Oh, wow, a pelican!’ And my AirPod went, ‘A pelican, huh? That’s so exciting for you! What’s it doing?’ I’ve never felt so deeply like I’m living out the first ten minutes of some dystopian sci-fi movie.”
When we asked Willison if he had seen Her, he replied, “I actually watched that movie for the first time the other day because people kept talking about that,” Willison said. “And yeah, the AirPod plus ChatGPT voice mode thing really is straight out of that movie.”
It turns out that Willison’s experience is far from unique. Others have been spending hours talking to ChatGPT using its voice recognition and voice synthesis features, sometimes through car connections. The realistic nature of the voice interaction feels largely effortless, but it’s not flawless. Sometimes, it has trouble in noisy environments, and there can be a pause between statements. But the way the ChatGPT voices simulate vocal ticks and noises feels very human. “I’ve been using the voice function since yesterday and noticed that it makes breathing sounds when it speaks,” said one Reddit user. “It takes a deep breath before starting a sentence. And today, actually a minute ago, it coughed between words while answering my questions.”
ChatGPT is also apparently useful as a brainstorming partner. Speaking things out with other people has long been recognized as a helpful way to re-frame ideas in your mind, and ChatGPT can serve a similar role when other humans aren’t around.
On Sunday, an X user named “stoop kid” posted advice for having a creative development session with ChatGPT on the go. After prompting about helping with world-building and plotlines, he wrote, “turn on speaking mode, put in headphones, and go for a walk.” In a reply, he described going on a one hour walk in which he “fully thought out an idea for a novel” with the help of ChatGPT. “It flowed out so naturally from the questioning, and walking and talking is sooooo easy.”