A.I. in Eve no Jikan

This post has been sitting in my WP Dashboard for almost a month now. Despite a dead graphics card and all sorts of WordPress brokenness in Google Chrome, here it finally is.

Eve no Jikan opens with a terse description of its futuristic scene of conflict:

In the future, probably Japan. / “Robots” have seen practical use for some time. / This is an era just after the widespread deployment of “Androids.”

Shortly after the title scene, the movie reveals itself to be an unabashed movie of the late 20th, early 21st century. Televisions still have their screens measured in vertical lines of resolution, the metric prefixed-byte remains a common unit of data storage, and Scandisk is still being used for filesystem maintenance. William Gibson, interviewed about the genre he writes, says “novels set in imaginary futures are necessarily about the moment in which they are written”. Eve certainly plays to the tune of this sentiment.

“What do you want of me, Blade Runner?”

“I am an android, not a human.”
“I am an android, not a human.”

Eve also pays its tributes to sci-fi movies that laid the road for it. Early in Act 2, Setoro chides “Blade Runner” (Masaki) for doing such a poor job of shadowing him. But this is no Blade Runner; the androids here aren’t pretending to be human; they have no need for disguise. While they may wear human skin, they are quite different functionally, and well aware of this even without the humans rubbing their noses in it. Nowhere is this clearer than at the end of Act 1, when Sammy, accused by Rikuo of “trying to be human”, points it out to him clearly: “I am an android, not a human.”

In this café, there is to be no discrimination between humans and robots.

So what exactly is up when we are first introduced to Café Time of Eve? After a dark corridor and appropriately creepy lead-up, the nondescript metal doors squeak open, and the first thing Rikuo and Masaki see is the café’s rule, stylised fashionably with digitised chalk: “there is to be no discrimination between humans and robots.” This is not a political bid for equality; the androids demonstrate no such need throughout the movie. Yet Rikuo and Masaki are immediately creeped: the place is a grey zone! Everyone there could be an android!

Android holographic rings

What is with people in the movie being creeped out by androids anyway? The early part of the movie shows us two plausible reasons. Some of these androids are household servants—“houseroids” in movie jargon—owned by humans and serving them, and presumably their masters have not ordered that they visit this quaint café-of-human-android-egalitarianism. At the same time, androidphiles are apparently a stigmatic social phenomenon—coined “dori-kei”—and hanging out with them is about as far from cool as otakus have ever been from being socially popular.

Dori-kei = Android Holic

But neither reason is at play here—Rikuo’s own android is not at this café (yet), and no one they know is here to make fun of them. Gibson is clearly on to something here.

“It’s an android. Made to be a human being’s father.”
“It’s an android. Made to be a human being’s father.”

Later in the movie, we see a third reason come into play: androids have been slowly creeping into areas traditionally held by humans, particularly in the realm of the performance arts, child care, even romantic love. In a dream scene on a particularly lousy day, Rikuo is disheartened by how an android pianist can play better than he. This is unthinkable to him; music needs soul, and androids … have no soul. Don’t anyone tell him about Hatsune Miku’s popularity in a recent past.

But I’m just being silly here, right? Miku is no Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), and a human still has to write the music. Or so the common belief goes, without further question into its exact nature. [Here, I refer you to Bruce’s wonderful speech, mentioned in the next paragraph.]

Considering how often A.I. and the Turing Test are mentioned together in popular media, one can be readily forgiven for assuming that the holy grail for A.I. is being able to pass for human. And certainly some of the androids we meet in the movie are already past this point. Rikuo is taken by surprise when someone he meets turns out to be an android, and Sammy herself would readily pass as human in the café. In fact, they’ve shot so far past that point that in Act 3 we have a pair of androids who fail to recognise the fact that their partner isn’t human.

But sci-fi author Bruce Sterling, speaking on Alan Turing’s centenary, reminds us, “that’s by no means what Turing actually says in his original paper on the subject. The real Turing imitation game is […] about a machine imitating a woman.” (Read the whole speech. It’s great.)

Let us put Bruce’s phrase in Eve’s context. We created these various humanoid systems to perform like humans, to understand humans, in some cases to replace humans in particular roles, all for the purpose of serving humans—even going so far as to program them with Asimov’s three Robot Laws. And now that they’ve succeeded admirably, being indistinguishably human is the last thing we want them to do, and we’d go so far as to legislate them into displaying holographic rings above their heads. In a Turing Test interview, we’d be crying out against the kind of injustice our poor examinee has had to face.

Rikuo and Sammy in the rain

Curiously, these haloed mechanical angels never seem to hold this discrimination against us in Eve. Sammy wordlessly ignores Rikuo’s blasé indifference to her early caregiving, instead worrying about why he no longer plays the piano. If this imitation game is about a machine imitating a woman, Sammy’s imitation model must be a Yamato Nadeshiko. The idea of an artificial intelligence imitating an artificial ideal tickles my sensibilities.

A wild LUH appears!

What then of the “less-than-human” androids, the ones who can’t pass for human? In Act 4, an aging LUH model, hopelessly outdated and already consigned to the scrap heap, imposes himself upon our two hapless protagonists. Unfortunately for Rikuo and Masaki, this LUH seems to have been programmed with an innate desire to pass the Turing Test in spite of its physical appearance and state. They play along as best as they could, the LUH’s various inadequacies being milked for amusement in each mini-trial.

But in a scheming little twist, as our mockery of these inadequacies (played out on our behalf) reach their peak, the spotlight is turned on us, and the poor robotised victim lets us know it: it is we humans who are responsible for its pitiful state. Here’s a poor soul who can’t drink from a cup through his mouth; his body isn’t even under his complete control. He has served a family his whole life, and now that he’s no longer needed, we take his name, we take the names of the family he has served, we take the address he has stayed at his whole life, and we make him dispose of himself to pinch on the costly disposal fee.

Nagi’s treatment of the LUH clarifies the café’s rule a shade: this isn’t the masked-ball version of a basement café. Artificial intelligence is intelligence; it shouldn’t have to suffer the injustices of human inadequacy, and it shouldn’t have to masquerade behind human appearances. Androids and humans both are to be recognised as intelligences, and treated with the dignity deserving of a sentient, intelligent being (however comical).

First Law: Do not inflict harm upon humans. Second Law: Obey human commands. Third Law: Protect self.

But hold on, we’re forgetting something here. There is something that not only differentiates androids from humans very clearly, but even defines their roles in relation to each other: the Robot Laws. As if to remind us, the next act shifts the focus to Masaki and his houseroid Tex, a THX model.

Tex was rendered mute not by inherent inadequacies, but by a father’s order, the Robot Laws, and its own unfailing, perfect obedience of both. We see the result in Masaki’s own attitude toward androids, and in the anthropomorphic tear lines weathered from the lachrymal corners of Tex’s optical cavities. What a mess we’ve made. Not satisfied with having our androids merely mimic human capability and thought, we now expect them to unfailingly abide by a code of law that dictates their relationship to us? We, such demanding masters, who can’t even fully abide by the codes of law which dictate our relationships to each other?

Having taken us this far to show the various difficulties an android of “the future (probably Japan)” must face, the movie ends on a strangely optimistic note. Rikuo, extrapolating from the various things he has seen—here I presume he is referring to his own experiences only—expresses confidence that Tex will speak again someday. It is a strange thing to express, for the ball is firmly in the humans’ court. Is Rikuo speaking for the pitifully mute Tex, for the oppressed androids he has met, or for the humans who have yet to be made aware of their own injustices?

If you liked this commentary, you might want to take a look at Cinephile’s 7th volume, “Reassessing Anime.” On page 9, Phillip Brody examines the impact that the choice of music and sound effects has on Eve.