Artificial Intelligence Remembers Love, Gains Sense of Self, and Perhaps, a Ghost in the Shell

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E15 'Machines Desirantes'.mkv_snapshot_17.43_[2010.06.22_18.40.10]

While technically incapable of experiencing ‘death’ or being ‘dead’ as a state, the Tachikoma (autonomous AI mini-tanks) do not want their memories erased because it would mean they would ‘forget’ Batou – the human (well, cyborg) who cares for them as if they were more than machines.

The robots experience existential uncertainty for what seems to be the first time, and unbeknownst to them, Major Kusanagi deemed the leaps in their intelligence inappropriately fast for autonomous weapon systems, and issued the order to cease their use in all missions henceforth. She gave Batou the order.

So ends what to me, will become one of my most favorite episodes in all of anime. The above story plays out in such playful, joyful, and clever ways that only serves as an elevator that takes us up to the penthouse of an impossibly high building, then makes us take the stairs on the way down.

I’m still on my way down, as I’ve refused to watch any episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex beyond this one (15 “Machines Desirantes”) because it asked much of me, and I gave, and was rewarded in turn. With this post I seek to share some of those rewards.

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E15 'Machines Desirantes'.mkv_snapshot_09.04_[2010.06.22_17.56.26]

Tachikoma as Individuals

Better to be a Socrates dissatisfied, than to be a pig satisfied.

Simply put, they were not individuals. After every mission, all the Tachikoma have their memories synchronized (including those who did not participate in the mission) – not so different from how we sync our portable media device with our hard drive libraries. This way, every unit knows what every other unit knows.

Every unit benefits from battlefield experience, even if only one unit participates in a mission. The concept of ‘green’ or ‘rookie’ units no longer apply, because every new addition to the Tachikoma complement will be no less ‘experienced’ as those who’d seen the most action.

It even makes the term ‘unit’ almost a misnomer, because all Tachikoma are referred to as generic units with no individuality. If the Major addresses one, she effectively addresses any Tachikoma in particular. There is no individuality because everything is shared almost to the point of uniformity.

This is until they start asking questions among themselves.

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E15 'Machines Desirantes'.mkv_snapshot_10.32_[2010.06.22_18.03.25]

First, they start noting Saito and Togusa, who have the lowest prosthetics percentage within Section 9. This means they have the least amount of electronic and mechanical enhancements to their bodies. Still, they would be called ‘cyborgs.’ The Tachikoma mention how the derogatory use of the term is merely reactionary conservatism from naturalists. I can see this play out in 21st century politics and ethics, even with non-mechanical (organic) parts, which at present would be use as replacements and not enhancements.

The Tachikoma claim to understand the misgivings of crossing the line between man and machine.

The Tachikoma ‘preyed’ on lesser robot AI in order to satisfy their curiosity, complete with superiority behaviors including condescension and dismissiveness. The Tachikoma linked with the helicopter sniper module and promptly acted disgusted when they find out that it doesn’t have proper communication/feedback functionality, calling it a ‘sub-Turing device.’

Saito’s dissatisfaction, then the sniper control device’s lack of functionality led the Tachikoma to think that it would probably scrapped, and they held council so as to prevent the same fate to befall them. The ‘leader’ (Batou’s Tachikoma) distrusts the looks Major Kusanagi has been giving them.

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E15 'Machines Desirantes'.mkv_snapshot_08.56_[2010.06.22_17.55.57]

But they attempt to come to terms with the relationship between ‘scrapped’ and ‘death’ first. As ghostless AIs, they’re pseudo-immortal; death isn’t within their range of experiences. A ‘Ghost’ they say, is a ‘raison d’être,’ that is, a reason for being. I distinguish this from ‘purpose’ or ‘function’ as it is something that is self-chosen, self-owned, as opposed to programmed or designed.

One of the Tachikoma has taken to entertaining itself by reading books; currently it’s in the middle of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. The same Tachikoma attempts to answer the meaning of “alive,” finding the definition pretty fluid. It doesn’t really answer the question, but instead comments on how humans’ image of life has been changing due to increased interactions with robots.

However, the discussion takes a grave turn when they consider that being scrapped would involve the deletion of their memories, and this would mean ‘forgetting’ all about Miki, the child girl from episode 12 (“Escape From”) with whom Batou’s Tachikoma had an adventure with. The adventure involved paying a visit to the grave marker of her pet dog Locky. I imagine the encounter to represent a high degree of conceptual content related to life, death, and value of relationship.

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E12 'Escape From'.mkv_snapshot_05.57_[2010.06.22_18.54.33] miki-chan

None of the Tachikoma are willing to forget about Miki. All of them want to see Miki again. And when Batou arrived, they mused on how he prefers to use the same unit, and how this points to a possible inseparability between body and mind. In any case, they wouldn’t want to forget someone like Batou. This is the beginning of a deep desire.

It makes sense, for a being that is no more than memory – an aggregation of data, to desire most to remember, to not forget about something. The difference in this case is that there is a non-material and non-functional value assigned: the value of sentiment.

The Sentimentality of Batou

Batou uses the same unit for every mission, stopping short of giving “his” Tachikoma its own name. He treats the Tachikoma as he would an intelligent steed. Cavaliers of all styles and milieus have been depicted in film and books as talking to their steeds. In 20th century popular fantasy, dragons are depicted as conversant partners in battle. I can easily place Batou’s relationship with his Tachikoma in the tradition of Kitiara Uth Matar with her dragon Skye in the Dragonlance Chronicles.

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E15 'Machines Desirantes'.mkv_snapshot_20.03_[2010.06.22_18.47.02]

Batou exhibits a high level of empathy for the Tachikoma, and is more likely anthropomorphizing them – stopping short of treating them as human beings. The thing is, Batou never really reflected on this up to the Major’s confronting him about it. It makes him the perfect character to play out this little tragedy.

This episode went from I, Robot, to Short Circuit (or Wall-E), to The Matrix/The Terminator, to Old Yeller in the span of 23 minutes.

Perhaps the most compelling part of The Major’s case is how they spotted ‘Batou’s’ Tachikoma camouflaging itself as it eavesdrops on their conversation. The room they were using had sufficient countermeasures, and yet the Tachikoma was reading their lips!

The Major and Batou then conversed in such a way that it would seem like she was instructing Batou to transfer his marksmanship students because they were underperforming, allaying the fears (yes fears) of the Tachikoma that they were to be sent back to the lab). But the Major did order the indefinite suspension of their use, which should me their decommissioning (even if temporary).

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E15 'Machines Desirantes'.mkv_snapshot_21.06_[2010.06.22_18.52.58]

“Are you giving me this order as my superior officer?” Asked Batou to Major Kusanagi.

“Yes.” She replied.

Flowers for Algernon

[OZC]Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex E15 'Machines Desirantes'.mkv_snapshot_09.21_[2010.06.22_17.57.40]

I have read the 1958 short story (but not the novel) back in university, and this episode prompted me to go back to it. Without giving the story away it is about manipulating intelligence levels in human beings. The protagonist Charlie writes his journal notes which serve as progress reports for the experiment to raise his IQ from 68 to > 200.

The relevance to Machines Desirantes is how FfA seems to represent the misgivings of the Major regarding the Tachikoma becoming intelligent much too fast. The difference is how the Major gets to act responsibly while Charlie’s experimental scientist sponsors either don’t, or are presented with too complex an ethical conundrum (considering they’re past human experimentation) that there’s few things for them to do.

In any case FfA brought to mind how human beings would not maliciously disparage people for physical disabilities, but wouldn’t think twice of making fun or insulting others for lacking intelligence. I would like to hear what the Tachikoma really thought about the novel. What would they make of the irrational human passions as imagined and documented in literature?

I’ve reached the ground floor, and found time to send flowers to Algernon, to Charlie. I think I’m ready for episode 16.

Further Reading

A Meditation of Robots here on WRL.
Tachikoma waxes on the existence of God, and the impossibility of Ghosts in its shell.
Tachikoma talks about the uncanny valley.
In depth study of the concepts in GitS: SAC is left to the viewer, and I did just that (though how in-depth my study is remains a matter of perspective). In any case this is an excellent piece on one of the best shows in the decade. (chaostangent 12/31/2009)

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
This entry was posted in analysis, moments in anime and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Artificial Intelligence Remembers Love, Gains Sense of Self, and Perhaps, a Ghost in the Shell

  1. Robert Weizer says:

    your insistence on having a sizeable backlog of blog posts is a bit off-putting when seconds ago I was just on twitter

    the tachikoma would be the biggest reason for me to rewatch SAC/2nd Gig, personally

    • Good lord I just finished watching the show before this post went live. I would definitely watch 2nd Gig for the Tachikoma.

      I don’t get what you’re saying about posts and twitter.

  2. gwern says:

    > Perhaps the most compelling part of The Major’s case is how they spotted ‘Batou’s’ Tachikoma camouflaging itself as it eavesdrops on their conversation. The room they were using had sufficient countermeasures, and yet the Tachikoma was reading their lips!

    Indeed; it’s a nice ref to _2001_, and we all know how HAL turned out…

    • I know about 2001 but I admit I’d never had the chance to see it. I never saw a copy on the rentals while growing up, never featured in any of the club screenings and SF class activities in uni, until I realize that I was never going to have enough motivation to go watch it.

      Maybe I really should now. Thanks for bringing it up.

  3. Baka-Raptor says:

    As much as I’m sick of robots with feelings, I must admit this was an awesome episode. Easily my favorite episodes of the series. The banter early on was amusing, but what really did it for me was the eavesdropping scene. The Tachikomas suddenly went from playful to threatening. Oh shit.

    • I realize I’m actually quite sick of robots with feelings stories too. I particularly dislike how it plays out in Star Trek: the Next Generation (the only part of the franchise I watched from week to week); the ‘Data’ character subplot annoys me.

      It’s probably why I like this one particularly much (as I do think highly or Urasawa’s Pluto, or approve of Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou).

      How they accepted their fate in episode 16 felt anticlimactic though still very powerful as a version of the Old Yeller moment, but how their particular subplot played out was supremely precious for me.

      As I said to Robert above, it’s why I’m going to watch 2nd Gig.

  4. Vendredi says:

    I am surprised you’ve read Dragonlance. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be – I’ve found a lot of books in Filipino bookstores by American authors that I haven’t even found stocked anywhere in Canada. Up North here is the real boonies…

    Machine-human anthropomorphism in the context of mecha is always a fascinating subject. There’s the “mech as the steed” route, where the mech is an independent functioning entity, and then there’s the related “mech as a totem/representation” of the pilot. I wouldn’t go so far as to call either mutually exclusive though.

    • Dragonlance was my favorite bunch of books for a long time. I’m such a dorktatron that I could recite a whole lot of Michael Williams’ poems, notably the Canticle of the Dragon (“Hear the Sage as his song descends…”) at one point in time.

      I remember arranging music for the Song of Huma LOL. Even when I graduated to Tolkien I reserved a soft spot for the Dragonlance books despite their continuity errors (Huma was a Knight of the Crown in the Age of Dreams right when Vinas Solamnus himself was from the Age of Might /PACEFALM) and blatant robbery of Tolkien material (Dragon Orbs, corrupting poor King Lorac /PACEFALM).

      “Return this man to Huma’s breast
      Beyond the wild, impartial skies…”

      Ugh, I was the biggest Dragonlance dork in Asia I suspect. Also, it was the SECOND important love triangle I’ve come across, as Tanis remains one of my most favorite characters; no, I am not a Raistlin fag).

      How would you find a sentient Gundam? I think I’d be intrigued.

      • Vendredi says:

        We do see a lot of the “mech as a totem” kind. And we sort of see that kind of anthropomorphism going a bit in MS IGLOO – we have yet to see any “intelligent” Gundams, per se, but the pilots do sure treat them that way sometimes (Well, there were Wing’s Virgos, but they’re weren’t exactly intelligent).

        I’m personally divided on the thought of seeing a sentient Gundam – the focus of the series has always struck me as being about humans and political struggle, rather than grappling with questions about aliens or technological advancement. A sentient Gundam feels like it might detract from that focus.

        After all these years my favourite character from the Dragonlance series still has to be Sturm. GAR is the least of descriptors that you could apply. Also, I think Skie would prefer being referred to as “Khellendros”.

        • Not if Kit was talking to her. He’ll let her call him anything.

          Aye, Sturm indeed; and I always liked that Larry Elmore illustration with Laurana standing over him at the High Clerist tower. Sturm was Sad GAR, and that whole business with Alhana Starbreeze — as contrived as it is, was and is emotionally compelling for me.

          The original RX-78-2 had this computer that assisted the pilot by retaining battlefield experience. I imagine this playing out similar to how certain tools, summons, equipment and the like have experience points and level up in some role-playing games (Final Fantasy is the only franchise I can think of right now).

          Theoretically, this should’ve helped Sayla when she piloted it, but it didn’t seem like it did (I assume Sayla is a Newtype thought I don’t know if the computer intelligence is NT specific).

          I share your sentiments about distracting the Gundam narrative focus, but I think it’s worth exploring in an OVA.

  5. Kiri says:

    I liked this post a lot and agree with most of your sentiments. This was also one of my favorite episodes and I think the lengthy discussions put on by the Tachikoma was a great way to approach the “robots with feelings” in a way that was compelling.

    • Thanks, and what I thought made it all work was how ridiculously cute the Tachkikoma are. That voice they use is horribly cute — high pitched without becoming chipmunk annoying.

      The way they contrast with Batou’s and the Major’s low tones is also why their conversations stand out. In fact most of the conversations are with people using low, measured tones and this was why I kept falling asleep watching this show… until the Tachikoma started featuring more and more.

  6. Canne says:

    The Tachikoma’s subplot of ‘machines with souls’ reminds me how a classic sci-fi concept is never out-dated if correctly executed. In the end of the day, this part solidifies the Tachikomas as one of main characters of the show 🙂

  7. Yi says:

    I loved the Tachikoma’s too. Their whole existence really blurred the line between those with ghosts, and those without, which is such an interesting theme in GITS. The part about individuality and synchronizing their collective thoughts is also fascinating. I’m not sure questioning each other among themselves necessarily makes each an individual entity. After all, we doubt ourselves all the time as well.

    Also, I always find it a neat little reference that the Tachikoma was reading Flowers for Algernon. The motifs of intelligence, self, and death are all heavily explored in that book.

    • Everything you’ve said is what draws me to GitS. The Tachikoma antics was what separated the manga from the first movie which I’ve seen and loved way back in college.

      I’m glad that they’re getting the kind of attention they’re getting in a multi-season TV anime.

  8. cuchlann says:

    The Tachikoma might have been the thing that interested me most by the end of SAC. I found myself empathizing with them as well, and feeling for them — I suspect, in the way Batou does.

    One of the delicious things SF does, and SAC certainly does, is invite us to consider ideas we normally wouldn’t — usually for emotional reasons. I think we must at least consider the possibility that the Major is actually correct in her concerns, and that we, like Batou, are falling prey to the cute design and voice of the tachikoma units — what would it mean for them to read about human emotions? It’s possible they aren’t doing anything that’s outside their programmed parameters.

    The existential quandary of a created lifeform is as old as Frankenstein, of course — and older still, since it’s the primary concern of religion in the face of a creator deity — and SF uses robots, cyborgs, androids, and all sorts of things to play with the idea. It is possible that the tachikoma are practicing self-preservation, something they are programmed to do unless specifically “ordered” (verbally or through cockpit controls) to do otherwise. How much of their behavior, the show invites us to wonder, is actually a growth from an agglomeration of experience and data, and how much is simply geometric growth of AI responsiveness in the face of experiential data and problem-solving skills?

    Now, I’m not actually claiming that’s correct, only that it’s an uncollapsed possibility in the text, lying alongside their growth and emotional development.

    And as all things in the show do, this development reflects back on Kusanagi. If she is entirely mechanical, what is human in her besides the agglomeration of experience, emotional and physical? If most of our emotions are due to chemicals in our bodies, and she doesn’t have these things, what’s left for her? Is she afraid of the tachikoma because they remind her of herself? Intelligent, growing, learning, but unfeeling save for certain consciousness-patterned behaviors? Is she simply an AI based on the personality of a child that’s experienced years beyond placement in a mechanical body?

    • Wonderful.

      You really should watch 2nd Gig, and I just found out about the Tachikoma Days series of short episodes (26!) where they pretty much just shoot the shit about things.

      Your conclusions here are predictive of the binary narratives related to humanity, sapience, reality and articficialness:

      Kusanagi is worrying about losing hers the more and more (as she interacts with more complex beings) while her life’s trajectory is directed toward eternity (physical dangers notwithstanding), and

      The Tachikoma are discovering more and more that they are “becoming human” while facing “death” and finiteness.

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  10. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (or as I’ll refer to it from now, G.I.T.S. S.A.C.) is one of the DVD series I’m most proud to have in my collection. The Tachikoma are a big reason for that. There have been many complaints about the “stand alone” episodes of this series. Insinuating that they bring down the series as a whole and only delay the more relevant Laughing Man episodes. But this intermittent over-arching arc I believe adds depth to the series, and in the end the Tachikoma’s travels and conversations are incredibly relevant and integral to the story. Section 9 isn’t Section 9 without them. They bring family to this group of professionals. The moment I found out you were watching this series, I knew you’d eat this stuff up.

    • I certainly did LOL

      GitS:SAC to me, is part of a trio of gun action TV series that also feature older, adult, cigarette-smoking characters. The other two being Cowboy Bebop, and Black Lagoon. Similarly these shows have an episodic nature wherein particular episodes don’t directly advance the ‘main’ (if it can be called that) storyline, and some viewers do not like this so much.

      I think the episodes that don’t directly progress the plot are delicious. For the purpose of this show they do well to flesh out the characters, and this makes the decisions they make during significant plot points more interesting and dramatic, if not more believable.

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  14. noni says:

    Great article

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  16. Pand says:

    Just to further add to literary references in the episode, the bookish tachikoma is also reading Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari at one point

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