Robot Sapience: Individuality in the Time of Stand Alone Complex (Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd Gig)

Fully intentional, the 15th episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig features the Tachikoma prominently, just as episode 15 of the first season did. While nowhere as evocative as that particular episode, ‘PAT’ takes a melancholic, if playful reflection on the nature of individuality.

By the end of the first season, the remaining Tachikoma did develop a rather advanced sense of self, to the point that they can think in terms of self-sacrifice, in a thrilling battle against an armed powered armor (they were decommissioned and unarmed by that time as a result of Major Kusanagi’s orders in episode 15).

The episode is so rich in conversation and discussion that I am quite overwhelmed by the content. Much like that episode in the first season, I could not watch any further unless I write about it.

[click image for full size]

Now I don’t think the above matrix is particularly insightful on its own, I just found it convenient to arrange the information relevant to individuality relative to the particular characters (and I thought a simple table would be boring).

In the previous 15th episode, the Tachikoma were given a sinister character when Batou’s “Personal” unit camouflage itself in order to eavesdrop on a conversation between the Major and Batou. This indicated willful disregard of an individual’s right to privacy, as well as protocol within a quasi-military unit. This is hardly reassuring behavior from an autonomous weapon system.

Here in 2nd Gig, Batou was asking for a Tachikoma to accompany them, and his personal unit exhibited greed, or at least a sense of entitlement by insisting that he be the one to accompany them. What’s really interesting here is that this unit made a false claim that it has completed its maintenance. We find out that it hasn’t been given its machine oil yet.

What this episode tells us is how the Tachikoma already display sapience, but it also suggests a lack of moral sense, or a willful disregard for it. I’m almost certain that an AI is programmed to be forthcoming and truthful, but in this case Batou’s unit used its sapience to judge that lying is better.

It’s a small detail, but for me it gave the episode a level of dread, layered between levels of melancholy and curious reflection.

One’s mistakes and errors, one’s failures, and one’s sins… these are important elements of individuality too are they not?

Another development is how the Tachikoma can ‘pop into’ their own virtual forum. Here they converse in ‘real-time’ but they also claim that in here, time does not exist. I find the idea both amazing and ridiculous. But what does time do to the sense of self, individuality, and collectivity?

Here’s an idea: The Secret Powers of Time

I can’t even begin to imagine how timelessness in this virtual space impacts the Tachikoma’s AI development. What would it mean for me, if I had access to this place, wherein I could indefinitely call “time out” while I level-grind in intelligence?

Or, if I had all that time, would I just end up finishing the rest of Ghost in the Shell?

Further Reading

More Philip Zimbardo: removing individuality (de-individuation) is a path to human evil; and there are experiments on anime characters that demonstrate this.

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.
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10 Responses to Robot Sapience: Individuality in the Time of Stand Alone Complex (Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2nd Gig)

  1. Vendredi says:

    This is a theme that you rarely see explored in science fiction or cyberpunk, partly because it’s really alien to think about – manual time dilation. Since you can in theory control the clock speed on a computer, you can slow down or speed up the rate of processing relative to “real time” which of course raises the question – what is “real time”, anyway?

    Interesting too, is the point you raise in the diagram about Dr. Akio leaving a signature of himself in the Tachikoma. Robot children are probably as old as the story of Pinnochio, but there’s a certain resonance in leaving a cultural, if not genetic/biological imprint of yourself behind in your creations.

    • Time as a concept — which enters the field of physics is something I can barely keep up with, though I’ve read the populist Stephen Hawking books. I really feel I’m in the deep end of the pool here (relevant: I can’t swim).

      The Stand Alone Complex concept is explored here by the Tachikoma via bringing up Richard Dawkins and his work on the meme, yeah, that meme. I wish I included this in the main post, but I felt like I will digress irreparably and this is why we can’t have nice things.

      The signature bit also reminds me of what is perceived to be Ikari Yui’s motivation for putting herself into the Evangelion Unit 01: she saw it as the representative of humankind, or at least the memory of its identity set forth in the galaxy.

      Personally I sometimes feel bad when I forget to put a “We Remember Love” signature on a video we create and upload to youtube. What is more important? That which is created, or that people appreciate and know the creator from the created?

      Memory is the digital realm of the survival instinct, to make people “remember love,” as compared to the analog version of continuing the genetic line via progeny. Both are attempts to live “timelessly” or “forever:”

      Plant a tree, write a book, raise a child.

      • Vendredi says:

        Funny you bring up Evangelion – the show raises a lot of examples of that sort of imprinting. Aside from the Yui-Rei-Unit 01 dynamic, there’s also smaller tidbits like Dr. Ritsuko and the Magi computers.

        • Now that’s a great example, The Magi are their own selves and the separate personas of the elder Dr. Akagi. Jeez just thinking about it deserves a post in the context of this theme:

          Memes, genes, legacy, language, life.

          Maybe next year lol.

  2. “…What would it mean for me, if I had access to this place, wherein I could indefinitely call “time out” while I level-grind in intelligence?”

    You would be incredibly efficient, you would also go insane.

    Loved the video, I watched it all the way through. And once I had finished it I realized that I was most likely one of those re-wired kids. The reason is because that white-board display made that lecture so very easy to digest.

    • I too think I’m pretty b0rk3n by the way I now consume information. It’d be very difficult for me to sit in class and do nothing but listen to the professor. I used to teach, and I can’t imagine how challenging it is in today’s context (I lectured at university from ’98-’00).

      The video’s white board style is amazing.

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