So I know this game pretty old now, as well as this thread being a few years old, but I had a friend pick up this visual novel for me a while ago, and just finally got around to playing it. I have some questions about the story (which I will elaborate my thoughts on) that I hope will spark some discussion about the game again. Let me say, however, that I don’t think many of these questions can completely be answered. The plot, and a lot of the themes in the novel are left quite open-ended, and I’m sure this is on purpose. Still, I’m curious to see what everyone thinks about these.
1. Is Yumemi more robot-like or more human-like? Is this point relevant to the novel and/or the bond between her and the junker?
One of the strongest themes in this novel to me was exploring similarities between AI and human beings. This is of course, not a new concept (look at Westworld, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.), but always an interesting one. Right from the start of the game, there is immediate confusion about whether or not Yumemi is a human. She’s appears quite human at first glance, though this is quickly cleared up. As the story moves on, the bond between Yumemi and the junker obviously grows considerably, despite this knowledge.
Besides an almost exactly similar appearance to humans, what human qualities and traits does Yumemi possess which seem to make her more human-like, and which [robot traits] seem to make her more robot-like? Let’s talk about the human traits first, though before I get into that, I think it’s important to discuss human consciousness and the human experience, and how that could play into this theme. I’ll also touch on the difference between general AI and narrow AI.
Narrow AI, is artificial intelligence which is built for a particular purpose in mind. For instance, Deep Blue, the chess playing computer, is a perfect example of narrow AI. General AI, on the other hand, is not built for a specific purpose. Rather, it is designed (or trying to be designed I should say, since general AI hasn’t been achieved as of yet) to be able to handle any generalized task, much like humans can. Some experts in the field believe, however, that this may never be possible, as something so similar to a human cannot be replicated with a strict, rule-defined turing machine (modern computer). Other experts believe that with enough processing power, and with the advents of new technology, it may be very possible in the near future. Finally, many experts believe it may likely be a combination of both. Also, do AI need to have a consciousness (something like human consciousness), to truly be considered general AI?
So the, what exactly is human consciousness? It’s more than just being aware, it’s more than just having a sense of self….it’s very hard to actually describe what it is. Also, what exactly plays into us having a consciousness? Is consciousness something physical which derives from evolution and your brain? Or is it something intangible and of another realm? If humans don’t even truly understand what consciousness is yet, then is it even possible to try and replicate it in an AI? Does the human experience play into our consciousness (i.e. having a body, having language, having independent thoughts)?
Sorry to go off on a bit of tangent there, but I think it’s important to ask those questions, to see why some traits Yumemi has may make her seem human, or, a better way to phrase that, is Yumemi really so different from humans, or are she and humans essentially the same?
The most human-like traits of Yumemi for me were:
- Not being able to completely follow orders from humans. Some examples of this:
When the junker kept asking her to be quiet and she kept talking.
When the junker kept throwing away the bouquet but she still wanted to give it to him.
When she let the 2 kids into the planetarium showing without making them pay the admission fee.
When the junker kept asking her to wait for him when they were walking to the car, but she still came to his aid.
- Her dedication to care for and protect humans. Some examples of this:
When she kept trying to ask the junker if they needed care and/or a nurse.
Trying to stop the fiddler crab near the end of the novel.
- Her ideas about Heaven and gods.
Let’s break these down one by one. For (a), it seems like independent thought, and being able to make decisions for yourself is an important part of human consciousness. It also may play a crucial role in general AI, as things need a way to think on their own without a set of instructions constantly being fed to them. The idea, however, that Yumemi was fed these instructions and then disobeyed them, is very human-like. If you give an instruction to a computer, it cannot disobey that instruction, and so this quality for me is the strongest argument for why Yumemi and humans really aren’t so different.
For (b), in general it seems like most humans want to preserve as much other human life as possible. This trait, then also makes Yumemi seem no different than humans. You could also look at this trait inversely: for instance, psychopathic serial killers tend to appear very inhuman. Yumemi’s devotion to human life therefore strengthens this idea that she and humans are really one in the same. There is a caveat to this one, however, and that is that Yumemi says she was programmed to take care of humans. I think a good question then is: was Yumemi looking out for humans, and in particular the junker because she was specifically programmed to, or was she doing it because it really was what she wanted, and genuinely made her happy? Did she sacrifice her life at the end of the novel of her own volition, or was it simply her programming?
Finally for ©, I will go more in-depth on the implication of this later on in this post, but I will say now that the idea of AI believing in Heaven is definitely a little off-putting. At least it was for me. If you take into consideration that general AI may need to have a consciousness to actually be general AI, then it makes sense that one could believe in Heaven. I don’t think most people think of automatons believing in any kind of afterlife, though, seeing as how (at least we would think) they are purely physical beings.
Now I’ll go over a couple traits which seemed to lean in the other direction, and show the differences between Yumemi and humans.
The most robot-like traits of Yumemi for me were:
- Her routine of going into sleep mode each night, as well as hibernation for most of the year.
- The idea that she can very easily just switch shells, as Yumemi herself (at least appears to be) just the memory card.
As I mentioned before, being able to disobey instructions was probably one of the most human-like traits for Yumemi, so for (a) here, this is the one time she explicitly has to follow instructions. You could argue that she has to sleep just as humans do, but that really isn’t the case to me. For me, she obeys her schedule too strictly for that to be the case.
For (b), once again, humans don’t really know if consciousness is simply a product of our brain, or if it’s something more than that. If consciousness really is just simply a product of the physical human brain, and nothing else, then perhaps this feature actually is quite human-like. However, it really seems like there is more to the human experience than just having/being a brain, and so for me, this is more robot-like. As a quick thought experiment, if you could put your brain into someone else’s body, would you still be you, just in a different body? Or would you be a completely different person?
Ultimately, I would say that Yumemi has more human-like traits than robot-like ones, and there’s even some strong arguments as to how the traits I listed as more robotic-like could actually be more human-like. The point that the author is trying to make, though, seems to be that Yumemi really is one in the same as humans.
2. What is the implication of Yumemi saying she hopes that Heaven isn’t split, and that humans and robots will be together in the afterlife?
To me, this implies that Yumemi believes in some sort of afterlife. Now, we can ponder about why she doesn’t want it split. I will say, she seems adamant about serving humans, and you can pretty much use this to explain why she doesn’t want it split. However, you do have to be careful here, because I don’t think serve [serving] is really the correct word to use here. It’s clear by the end of the novel, that the junker is not the only person she had shared a close bond with. She was also very close with her coworkers at the planetarium before the war started. Beyond just serving her duties at work, she really seemed like a close friend to many people. So her service was not just the planetarium showing, but also friendliness and companionship. This is what I really think she means when she says serving humans makes her happy. She means being a good companion to others brings her joy. And in this regard, this is why she does not want Heaven split between humans and robots, as she will lose her companions, and her companions will lose her.
3. What role does the planetarium itself (and the show at the planetarium) play in the story?
This one’s pretty simple, but was a strong theme throughout the narrative so I figured I’d throw it in.
The sky serves as a symbol of hope in the novel. Long before the war, humans since the days of antiquity had looked up at the sky and were inspired by it’s vastness and beauty. And, for just as long, humans have dreamed of reaching the sky. Then, shortly before the war started, the sky still served as a beacon of hope, to start life anew on a different planet, with plenty of resources. But then the war broke out, and it sent the Earth into a 30 year period of rain. Because of the rain, you could no longer see the sky, and so the beacon of hope for all the world was snuffed out.
The junker was absolutely awestruck (and rightfully so) after seeing even just part of the planetarium showing. The junker had never seen the sky, or if he did, it was when he was very young, and did not recall it. The showing seemed to instill the junker with some renewed sense of hope, being able to see the sky like that, and even just having it described by Yumemi. I believe this to be the defining moment which truly strengthened the bond between her and the junker. It’s clear that the junker is not an optimist, and no one would expect him to be, but I think Yumemi was able to instill some hope in him that no one else ever was able to before.
4. Does the junker make it out with his life and Yumemi’s memory card? Or does he accept his death and become obliterated along with the memory card?
I really think that this is totally up in the air, basically a 50/50 chance whether or not he and Yumemi died. I believe, however, that he made it out. I will now explain why I believe this.
First off, as I described in the section before, he now has a renewed sense of hope from being able to see the sky, even if just for a little, and even if it was just a projection. Second off, he was thinking about changing professions while in the building and aiming at the fiddler crab. This was probably partially due to this new sense of hope.
As I said before as well, Yumemi gets joy out of being a good friend to her human companions. I think there is a chance, even if slim, some if not all her old coworkers are alive. Due to the junker’s new sense of hope, the best case scenario would be for him to make it out alive and everyone gets reunited. However, you could make an argument on the flipside, that all her coworkers are dead, and that by the junker dying with her memory card, they will all be together in Heaven.
5. Why did the junker decide to stay at the planetarium and fix the projector in the first place?
To me, this was the weakest part in the story. I’m not really sure why the junker decided to stay to repair the projector in the first place. I understand why he initially went in the building, but I don’t know why he stayed afterwards. I was discussing with a friend about this earlier, and they suggested it may just be because of how outwardly nice Yumemi was to the junker. The junker was just so used to meeting with other selfish, pessimistic people that something about how nice Yumemi was being made him stick around. Still, I’m not sure if that’s a super strong explanation, as I would think the junker would be desensitized to just about anything. Curious to hear others’ thoughts on this.
Ultimately, I don’t think we can know for sure a lot of the questions I’ve asked here. Of course, the story wouldn’t be all that interesting if there was answer for all of these right? I do ultimately think that humans and Yumemi are one in the same, and while I do think they both made it out of the city, I’m not sure it’s relevant either way.
Thanks for tuning in <3