Baldr Sky and Artificial Intelligence

ss (2014-07-28 at 03.26.41)I wish that I may understand all of you, and I wish that you all may understand us.-

As I mentioned in my first impressions post on Dive 1, the concept of artificial intelligence (AI) is a central concept to Baldr Sky. For a short background: artificial intelligence in Baldr Sky comes in two forms: the inorganic AI, represented by the Baldr System supercomputer in the basement of Midspire; and the biological AI, represented by Eve and her subunit in Seishuu Academy, Mother. Once artificial intelligence was discovered, a technological race began between the two AI systems, the goal being an AI possessing qualia, believed to be the mark of similar intelligence that humans also possess. By the time of protagonist Kadokura Kou’s high school days, the biological AI managed to obtain qualia, leaving the Baldr System obsolete while Eve becomes responsible for managing the daily lives of the Union’s citizens.

However, the distrust for artificial intelligence runs deep: sympathizers to the anti-AI cause have come up with “Alienist” as a slur for those who depend on AI in their daily lives. Even some those who rely on AI for their daily lives have doubts towards the AI. Things only get worse when the Grey Christmas occurs – did the AI governing the Assembler and Gungnir’s security system run berserk, leading to the tragedy in Kurahama City? Are the AI actually plotting against humanity?

If you haven’t caught on yet, Baldr Sky’s conflict hinges on a central argument in the philosophy of AI: the strong AI vs. weak AI debate. I’ll spare the details as I’m no expert myself, but the fundamental question is whether an artificially-intelligent machine can actually understand the decisions it makes – can a machine that responds to the user in Chinese sentences when spoken to in Chinese actually understand the conversation? Baldr Sky takes a step further and asks: can two completely different intelligent beings remove the gap in understanding between them?

The short answer that Baldr Sky gives is yes, humans and AI can come to an understanding. But there wouldn’t be a blog post if it was that simple, would there? What makes Baldr Sky special is how it arrives at that answer. And what a long ride it is.

(Spoiler Warning: I will be spoiling the whole of Sora’s route in this post. Needless to say, turn back now if you’re planning on reading Baldr Sky in the future.)

ss (2014-07-29 at 12.53.39)The true antagonist of Baldr Sky is the enigmatic Dr. Neunzehn, referred only in bits and pieces of exposition from the first five routes. His influence extends from beyond the grave through the Baldr System: in his last moments, he converted his memory into a virus that rewrites the memory and ego of a target host into a copy of himself and uploaded it into the Baldr System. Kurihara Naoki, driven by his obsession of completing the Assembler, downloads the knowledge left behind by Dr. Neunzehn, eventually succumbing to the virus’s influence.

Behind the scenes, a war between the two forms of AI brews. Neunzehn – a cyborg formed from an agglutination of several brains, eventually resulting in a single personality – detests the irrationality of humans. His ideal, the Baldr System, is the pinnacle of order and organization; why did it lose to something as irrational and chaotic as a biological AI? Driven by his obsession with order, he begins a plot to erase the irrationality of humans: through Kurihara Naoki, the Assembler is completed, and he takes advantage of Eve’s lack of experience with hostile action to steal control of the Commander program of the Assembler. Thus, the Grey Christmas occurs.

World Zero – as it is referred to instory – is where the true plot of Baldr Sky lies. Kou dies during the Grey Christmas instead of Sora, and Sora becomes a soldier to expose the truth behind the Grey Christmas. However, she fails to stop the Assembler the second time it is completed, and the Ark Project – a plan to convert the consciousness of people into digital ghosts (“wired ghosts”) – is activated. The real world is destroyed, while eons pass in the virtual world as the consciousnesses of the wired ghosts turn into Tang merge into a single consciousness. Thus Neunzehn’s ambition of complete order is achieved…

ss (2014-07-29 at 12.47.31)…If not for Sora’s intervention. Sora – her ego still intact due to her isolation in the ES – begins intervening with parallel worlds to see whether it’s possible to prevent the Assembler from destroying the world. Through the AI, Sora manages to observe millions of parallel worlds by using Kuu – her simulacrum – as her Agent. Using her knowledge in World Zero, she uses Kuu to relay messages to the right people in different worlds.

And this is where the importance of the Chinese room experiment comes in. Kuu begins with a childlike mentality, having superficial knowledge of human behavior. Over the course of Baldr Sky – thanks to the input-output feedback between World Zero and the alternate worlds – Kuu begins to gain human-like sentiments. Throughout the different routes, she begins to intervene in critical moments – the most notable being the end of Makoto’s route where she sacrifices herself to silence the Tranquilizer’s effect on Eve – proving that she understands the situation and knows how she should act.

The simulacrum also plays an important role in Sora’s route – this time in the form of Kou, who awakens with the self-identity of Kadokura Kou. Midway through Sora’s route, despite his realization that he’s a simulacrum, Kou’s resolve to save Sora only strengthens. Kou’s realization of his goals and his self-identity strengthens Baldr Sky’s thesis: that AI will eventually reach the point where they can understand human emotions. Coincidentally, this also leads into one of the greatest moments in the game:

ss (2014-07-29 at 12.45.11)In the Net I was born, and in the Net I will meet my death.-

The Kou simulacrum, with the experience of millions of versions of his original, arrives at the end, in front of Dr. Neunzehn’s machine, with the strong resolve that he is “a machine built to save Minazuki Sora”.

Baldr Sky, in the end, is a romantic, sentimental piece. The very end of Sora’s route reflects that: Kuu and Sora become one and complete each other, a reflection of Baldr Sky’s answer to the artificial intelligence question – yes, humans and AI will be able to understand each other. In fact, together, they grow and learn from one another.

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2 thoughts on “Baldr Sky and Artificial Intelligence

  1. Like you pointed out, the process of childlike Kuu (a simulacrum) learning and maturing throughout the routes, becoming an independent entity with self-awareness (mirror image of Sora) and eventually bringing salvation to Sora (her original) and completing her is probably one of the most important themes in Baldr Sky.

    And Kou’s monologue just before the final battle against Neunzehn (while the crowning music “jihad” is being played in the background) is certainly the most memorable moment of Baldr Sky.
    Personally, I believe the moment when final battle and Kotoko’s vocal start with 「ノインツェーン、もう…… 終わりにしよう!!」 is one of the best moments among all Visual Novels.

    How I wish the game was translated so that more people could enjoy this masterpiece.

    • I wouldn’t be surprised if people actually refer to Kuu as the true heroine of Baldr Sky. Her development across all six routes just expresses Baldr Sky’s theme so well.

      I think some of the impact on me was lost when I first saw the jihad scene because I kept having to switch to the text hooker so I can parse what’s being said. Since then I’ve read through it a couple more times and I appreciate the moment more and more. That scene is one of the most memorable moments in the eroge that I’ve read, and it’ll likely stick with me for a while.

      Futsuu’s still working on the translation, I hear. Hopefully it does get done because English-only players are missing out by not being able to read it.

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