In time, artificial intelligence could make our art, provide our services, and learn our means of thought. It will alter the nature of creativity, relationships and life itself. All while it slowly becomes invisible to the naked eye, walking among us as any other human would, their features and even micro-movements indivisible from our own. But even as the fear encroaches on our fiction and in headlines, occurrences in AI are creating joy, comfort and feelings of boundless possibility.
Kizuna Ai, the world’s most famous virtual YouTuber, has become an ambassador for the ‘Come to Japan’ campaign instated by the Japan National Tourism Organisation. She invites the world to experience the wonders of Japan, wearing her AI origins in her name. She is adorable, expressive, excitable and beloved for creating a positive space in the ‘Tuber community. A beacon against the toxicity in the top and bottom halves of the internet, she posts video game Let’s Plays with purely positive intentions, there to enjoy without a hint of snark, cynicism or hate. She can’t even see the spooky in dark puzzle-platformer Inside, misunderstanding the protagonist’s journey through a forest infested with the zombie-like failings of mind-control experimentation as the story of a boy who “ran away from home… to set out on a journey in search of acorns and pinecones”.
Ai’s channel is a utopia, where fear and cruelty don’t exist. “I’m all alone in this virtual space every day,” she pines, glad of her fans’ company, even if it is through a screen. She is a bright and smiling example of a world where humanity has nothing to fear from its own technological advancements, and in which the thinking, feeling denizens of post-humanity have nothing to fear from flesh-and-blood feelings of inadequacy and insecurity leading to hatred.
Her anime roots have always been stretched between the AI paranoia of Serial Experiments Lain and Ergo Proxy, and series portraying hope for a future in which we live in harmony with our artificial replications. Astro Boy, the robot created to replace the scientist Dr. Tenma’s dead son, resisted the anger and sadness of being abandoned by his ‘father’ and became a superhero on screen in 1963. From this example, anime has balanced the positivity of a true AI reality against the potential dystopia, in a way the west and its fiction doesn’t often portray. Redemption and healing through friendship, characters denying limits and differences to become their best selves, are exemplified through AI as a reflection of our greatest potential, as well as our deepest flaws.
In Time of Eve, a small café becomes a microcosm for a world where humans and androids could live in harmony. Androids are an unavoidable part of day-to-day life in this short series, but are denied the same rights to life as humans, widely regarded as tools and viewed by Japan’s Ethics Committee as overstepping and outstripping their place in society. When Rikuo finds his android Sammy taking refuge in the Eve no Jikan café, he begins to step back from his ownership as he gets to know all the customers as people.
Treated as our children, beings over which we can claim some control, Time of Eve advocates for androids and AI as extensions of true humanity. Our arrogance in bringing creations of our own exertion and hope into the world, then limiting how they can express that same will for themselves, is cautioned in a title which suggests returning to a time of perfect innocence, before a hunger for knowledge birthed shame, fear and pride. AI seen clearly as part of humanity’s evolution is a chance to recreate ourselves for the better, to become godlike for a better world. This view stands opposed to the corrupted worlds like Lain’s ‘Wired’, and the all-consuming, consciousness-devouring God who vainly named themselves such in the virtual plane.
Attaining an intellectual and emotional awareness beyond seeing androids as electronics and conveniences is explored in the likes of Broken Orgel. Sprung from the plot contrivance of finding a mechanical angel tossed with the garbage, a broken cast-off from the Parents line of service androids is discovered and brought home by Keiichiro, who lost his whole family in a traffic accident. He plans to dump her again when he learns that her damage is irreparable, but finds her preparing breakfast the next day. Here is someone he can care for, who will care for him and listen to stories of himself and his family, despite her short-term memory loss. Here is someone his life can mean something to, after all his failings and pain in the past.
Anime such as this and Chobits make helpful androids, eager to love, a gateway to a happier life for the lonesome individual. Chobits has a problematic way of showing it, persocom Chi childishly devoted to pleasing her rescuer Hideki’s every whim from the moment he turns her on (pun intended) by pressing the switch in her G-spot. But intuiting past the lewd text and Chi learning to buy her own ‘pantsu’ to spare her master the embarrassment, Chobits makes a stand against abusing and taking advantage of an android’s ‘inhuman’ soul. One day, Chi stumbles into a peep show and gets roped into being one of its showgirls. The man in charge may be clueless that she’s a persocom, but her innocence and misunderstanding of the situation she’s in is plain to see. Still, her host coaxes her into performing for the customers, the results as uncomfortable and troubling as could be expected.
All ecchi aside though, Chi becomes company for Hideki in a city he doesn’t know, and where no-one knows him. He becomes the same for her in a world that threw her away, teaching her how to express herself and giving the love and affection she was denied. There are advancements being made into providing AI friends for people who would otherwise be left alone for much of their days, like companion robot Kuri, and CareCoach’s virtual pets monitored by real, human carers who can help and encourage their vulnerable buddies through the big life worries and everyday struggles. These aids are still in their innocence, like Chi, but hold great promise for the isolated, deserving of a link to a life they might otherwise feel distant from.
Plastic Memories showed us a reality that could be, of artificial and organic life having the chance to be loved, and to live as equals in that love. But at the same time, it showed us the limits still barring us from that utopia, a limited lifespan and memory for these androids called Giftias. They give their family or their friend a precious time for making happy memories to fill a place of loneliness, pain or grief, before they start to lose themselves. It shows a future still too recognisable in our present time, in which we’re doomed to lose our loved ones to deterioration.
Much of the time in Plastic Memories, SAI Corp, the company responsible for the Giftias’ creation, send out employees to reclaim their androids before their memories start to lapse. But because of human error and the refusal of the human heart to let a loved one go, this isn’t always possible. That’s the tragedy of where we find ourselves in the wistful dreams of true AI, escaping into animation and the growing community of virtual YouTubers like Kizuna Ai. Our creations to heal these wounds still have a way to go, but we continue to push beyond our perceived limitations for an ideal that could be. An ideal that will be, if we keep stretching towards a world where every soul has its needs met.