First Impression: The Gene of AI

At first it was fire. Then it was steel. Then it was the steam engine. Soon enough we had nuclear power and artificial intelligence. And now, in a not-so-distant future, we have Humanoids: AI robots that function almost identically to humans. Almost 1% of the population is Humanoid, and with that many walking around, you’d be surprised if there weren’t a few bugs. Thankfully, Humanoids have doctors just like humans do, and Sudou Hikaru is one of them. By day, he does your routine outpatient check-ups. But by night, under the moniker Moggadeet (which sounds like a meme, but I assure you it’s not), he treats Humanoids whose ailments are a little less above board. You see, artificially creating personalities raises some questions. Like “What happens when computer viruses infect a Humanoid? How do you cure a digital illness?” Or “What happens when someone duplicates an AI personality? Or makes a backup to prolong their lifespan? Or to produce mass soldiers for a war effort?” How do we cherish human life when technology threatens to transform it into a commodity?

First things first: they missed out by not naming the main character Gene. The pun wouldn’t even be that bad in Japanese! In all seriousness, though, The Gene of AI is asking a lot of fascinating questions about technology, artificial intelligence, identity, personality, and the value of human life. These are timely questions given the current popularity of AI and the ongoing effects of social acceleration. And visual media is placed in a uniquely fitting position to answer these questions, at the crossroads of art and entertainment. But there are two glaring problems here. First, the narration reeks of a retreatist, cloistered approach to technology, where all technological developments are Problematic and Harmful, so we need to return to the golden age where technology wasn’t so advanced and these problems weren’t so relevant. The first five minutes contain several segments of characters complaining about “the world we’re living in,” and I’m not optimistic that the show will nuance that overly nostalgic mindset. Second, it’s not the first anime about technology and human life. We’ve seen those themes explored in noteworthy titles like Steins;Gate, Serial Experiments Lain, and Ghost in the Shell, or smaller works like Planetarian and Chobits. The challenge here will be to tell a novel and compelling story about where technology is taking us as a global society. And given the lackluster direction of this premiere, both visually and narratively, that will be a steep hill to climb.

The Gene of AI is streaming on Crunchyroll.


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