OpenAI’s recent launch of its voice assistant has led to a lawsuit between the company and actress Scarlett Johansson.

The link between Johansson and the voice assistant named Sky is a clear reference to the Spike Jonze film Her, starring Johannson as an emotive AI voice. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman even tweeted “her” during the development stages of Sky.

Spike Jonze’s 2013 film about a lonely man finding solace in the voice of his AI personal assistant has very publicly now become a reality. Looking back further into the director’s filmography brings us to his feature debut Being John Malkovich, directed by Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufmann.

The almost real worlds of Spike Jonze

The 1999 film Being John Malkovich marked the feature debut of two of Hollywood’s most innovative creatives: Spike Jonze made the leap from iconic music videos—such as ‘Buddy Holly’ by Weezer and ‘Praise You’ by Fatboy Slim—and Charlie Kaufmann’s first feature script was sold and produced. The film follows a puppeteer, played by John Cusack, who finds a portal that takes you into the mind of actor John Malkovich. With Her becoming a reality, how close are we to entering the mind of John Malkovich?

Social media and the sense of self

In recent years, researchers at Banaras Hindu University published findings about societal links to AI and technology, drawing parallels between our current relationship with technology and the world we see in Being John Malkovich. Online existences, especially the presence of social media in everyday lives, have begun altering people’s perceptions of reality.

The lines between fact and fiction are beginning to blur with the prevalence of misinformation on the internet. In the film, when each character enters the mind of John Malkovich, realities and perceptions of the world alter. Much like entering the life of someone through constant documentation on social media, the gap between the self and the other is closing.

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Social media allows people to create new identities, whether that be bot-like accounts to hide behind when spreading malicious posts or the testing ground for LGBTQI people to find support when testing new names, pronouns, and identities. The portal into John Malkovich’s mind can draw comparisons. Being in the mind of John Malkovich allows Lotte, the puppeteer’s girlfriend played by Cameron Diaz, to experience life for brief moments in another body, leading her to make discoveries about her own identity and sense of self.

The John Malkovich of the future

The VR and AR capabilities that are currently emerging—alongside gaming headsets and industrial training devices—are edging us toward a reality where we can see and experience the world from another person’s point of view. Unlike Being John Malkovich, these technologies do not allow us to alter the lived experience of another person.

However, the integration of artificial intelligence into virtual and augmented realities could lead to artificial human consciousnesses. Companies like Neuralink are already conducting research into brain-computer interfaces. One day, humans may be able to upload their minds into a virtual world. So, while you cannot enter the mind of John Malkovich just yet, the blurring of our online and real-world presences through the growth of social media is leading to a rise in changing personal perceptions.

People feel closer and embedded in the lives of others, whether that be friends or famous actors. Data privacy and theft are already issues. One day, when our consciousness is uploaded somewhere on the internet, what is to stop someone from creating a virtual portal into the mind of John Malkovich?