We were first introduced to digital creative Bjorn Johansson’s work a few years back when we profiled one of his projects, Big-Ass Message, which allowed users the ability to create full-screen, text-based messages across the screens of co-workers and friends for amusing results. Since then, he’s been hard at work at his day job, yet still finds time for self expression. His latest endeavor titled “Him” is an interactive site, based in the world of Spike Jonze’s film titled “Her.” Much like the character Spike created, "Him" the website has an interactive element allowing users to converse with the pseudo “operating system" that Bjorn has created. You can chat with it about the complex or mundane, and even play with its knowledge of pop culture—it finishes the sentence “What’s the time?” with, “It’s time to get ill." Currently the site is limited to those who use Google Chrome and have a microphone, however Johansson feels these technicalities just help him illustrate his elaborate proof of concept. He spoke with CH about the project's inspiration and plans for its future.
Where did the idea stem from?
The seed for the idea was planted a while ago when I learned about Google Chrome’s speech recognition capabilities. That instantly struck me as something I wanted to use for a project, even though I had no idea what that project would be. A few months later, I had a meeting with Avery Lipman, who is the COO of Republic Records. It was an interesting meeting, but we never got around to talking about what I could or would like to do if I got a chance to work with one of their artists. Nevertheless, that’s what I left the meeting thinking about. And then finally, while doing research for another project, I just happened to learn how easy it is to incorporate computer generated speech into a website. With Spike Jonze’s “Her” fresh in my memory, all these things just came together in my mind. And the outcome was the idea to make a "Her"-inspired website you can talk to, with me replacing Theodore (the film’s protagonist) and at the same time portraying myself similar to a music artist. Add to that the fact that I’ve been a Spike Jonze fan since he wrote for Grand Royal magazine in the mid to late '90s, and the whole thing felt like an even better idea.
Just how easy is it to incorporate Google Chrome’s speech recognition into a website?
The basic functionality can be achieved with just a handful lines of code. Customizing the implementation takes a lot more work though—depending on what you want to use it for.
What do you hope others will get out of interacting with the site?
I just hope people realize what a badass digital creative I am! Due to the fact the there’s a pretty high threshold to enter the site—Chrome only, no mobile, mic required—I consider this project a very elaborate proof of concept. Speech-recognition is a very nascent concept on the web, and I think it'll take a few more years before it breaks through and becomes mainstream. When that happens though, hopefully people will remember this project.
Do you execute these ideas as a way to simply express yourself outside of your day job, or as way to ideally get them sold or marketed to allow you to work on them full-time?
This project in particular was almost exclusively about self-expression. Even I have a hard time seeing how voice recognition could be put to good use for something like an online advertising campaign at this point in time, due to the previously mentioned hardware and software requirements. However, I believed in the idea for this project so strongly that I wanted to see it come to fruition anyway. It was also a great opportunity to finally do a photo shoot with my very talented friend Aaron. Connecting with other creative individuals is the most rewarding part of embarking on any kind of project outside of work to me. I usually don’t consider the possibility of “selling" the ideas I use for my side projects, because I have so many other ideas that I’m just waiting for a chance to present to clients.
Images courtesy of Bjorn Johansson and Aaron Breetwor