In a refreshing change of pace, an anime is discussing contemporary societal issues and providing a solution to it. While said solution is, of course, imaginative, it’s still a great thought exercise for today’s troubles.
Poised to end the season with a cliffhanger, Beatless is set to continue in the fall with a set of 4, final episodes. However, before its season finale, I choose to praise Beatless for having portray A.I. differently than the types of A.I. we often see in media.
I previously wrote about why I thought Beatless was the hidden gem of the last two seasons that no one has been watching. After last week’s episode (which was not a recap!), I was still surprised and impressed with a number of new developments.
Spoilers for episode 19: Paper Tiger
One query I had after it was revealed that Lacia has become the world’s 40th Super A.I. was “how is it that none of these A.I. have tried to cause humanity harm?” As it is revealed in episode 19, a Super A.I. did previously try to cause humanity harm.
During the episode, Lacia and Arato get called out by another Super A.I. to get their side of the story about what happened during Snow Drop’s attack (which had the unfortunate reality of many human deaths and property damage). The couple meet with an avatar of the Super A.I. Astraia at ground zero of the “Hazard” incident from 42 years ago. When asked by Astraia’s avatar what he knows about the Hazard incident, Arato says that he learned in school that it was a massive earthquake that caused loss of power, water and gas, causing much chaos.
While partly true, Astraia explains that a natural disaster did hit Kanto and caused the aforementioned loss of power/water/gas, but the Hazard incident occurred afterward. See, the government hid the truth from the public (of course). When 20 million people were panicking from the natural disaster, the government turned to the super A.I. Ariake for a solution. Ariake was the first super A.I. created, but it has since been offline...because it is under ground zero.
Ariake gave guidance to the government for reconstruction. However, because there was a resource shortage, people began to loot and steal electrical power. Desperate for help, the government turned to Ariake and connected it to the network (it was previously isolated) so it could coordinate the reconstruction efforts.
Ariake prioritized getting electrical power online first and it managed to do so...by starving the people that weren’t contributing to society (e.g. by stealing power) to death. Thus, Ariake managed to get the power back up and running.
The government then used missiles to destroy Ariake. And that’s why all the super A.I.’s in Beatless are not networked together, because bad things happen. Not surprising that A.I. would find the most expedient method to do things. It’s the next part that surprised me.
Astraia explains that because super A.I.s are still only tools used by humans, they can not choose the problems they are given. “If there are issues with the problem, the ones presenting the problem must make the necessary corrections.” Because Ariake was not provided the correction to, say, preserve human life, fatalities occurred (note that there’s no Asimov law of robotics in Beatless).
Arato comes to the realization that he’s been pushing Lacia to create a future where humans “can have hope in” without actually putting in any thought or effort about what kind of world it actually is. A “future of hope” can be anything, and considering everything that’s happened so far, such a “future” would inevitably require even more large scale events to take place to institute such change.
When asked if the current world is so bad that it needs to change, Arato acknowledges that the world he lives in is really good and peaceful, but there are bad things too (e.g. the Antibody network). So he wants to do better, he wants to do more.
The solution that Lacia suggests is to show humanity that super A.I.s are just tools, they aren’t malicious beings that are hell bent on destroying humanity nor are they free to do as they please. The future world needs super A.I.s to have more resources and processing power in order for them to be able to properly solve any problems that they are given. A lack of processing power and resources may lead to a scenario like Ariake decades ago.
Humanity’s reluctance at giving super A.I.s more power though is hard to overcome.
In fact, Lacia’s suggestion of having super A.I.s “control” humanity through manipulation at societal levels (e.g. control of democracy, distribution of resources to populations) was already considered by some of the super A.I.s, however society wasn’t ready to accept such a massive paradigm shift.
Here’s the episode’s bombshell moment (for me at least): Lacia points out that the current system of humans managing their own resources has reached its limit, because “hackers” can manipulate the system for their own benefit, completely erasing any semblance of fairness (hackers presumably being corrupt government officials, for example). Give the system over to the tools themselves (the super A.I.s) to watch over humanity and because they’re super A.I.s, they can protect against any systemic manipulation.
So, this was pretty shocking to me primarily because it’s so very concurrent with current societal systems. It has been written elsewhere (and by better writers) about how skewed society’s various industries are. For example, old, white men tend to hold positions of power and will often abuse said power for their own needs (they are the hackers). While there is the idea of the “American dream,” where a person’s fortunes are tied to hard work and skills (a meritocracy), such a thing practically doesn’t exist in the real world due to the aforementioned abuse of positions of power. In a refreshing change of pace, an anime is discussing contemporary societal issues and providing a solution to it. While said solution is, of course, imaginative, it’s still a great thought exercise for today’s troubles.
Imagine if we managed to scour out power abusers at the tops of industrial hierarchies and replace them with who we think would be better, could we really guarantee that things will be righted? We don’t know anything for certain (and from my own standpoint we won’t know until we try anyway, so I will always support better representation in any industry). However, in the world of Beatless, there is another option of using super A.I.s to solve this problem. They are a third party, with presumably unmalleable wills and not susceptible to corruption, which power can often do. There’s a reason we have the adage “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Oh, and there’s also how Lacia views humanity as more than just a person, but rather an amalgamation of their body, the tools they use, and their environment. In this sense, humanity has already evolved past their current societal system limits as hIEs become more commonplace and readily accepted.
This show is so good.
Beatless is currently airing on Amazon Prime. Its season finale is tomorrow (June 29, 2018) and it will return in the fall with a 4 episode conclusion. I hope one of those episodes isn’t a recap...