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Virtual Girl Wants to Think
My feet pedaling the bike felt painful. While feeling the rapidly piling up lactic acid, I put vigor into both of my legs. I—Nishiki Mamoru, scampered through the city of Asakusa. The out-of-season koinobori muffler wrapped around my neck flapped noisily.
Current time: 8:52 A.M.
I made a sharp curve in the intersection in order to keep my speed from dropping. Leaving the klaxons behind me, I continued to step on the pedal. My breath became white and flew up into the winter sky.
“AGI! How many more minutes until the exam starts?!”
“Calculate. It is 7 minutes and 42 seconds until the start of the Theory of Relativity exam.”
A flat reply came. It was a young girl’s voice, but her tone was mechanical, seeming to lack human kindness. As for the origin of the voice, it was the smartphone attached to the handle of the granny bike I’m riding.
A lone girl was displayed on the screen. Her hair was silver, like high-purity quartz, and her eyes gave the impression of the ends of the sky. Her skin was smoother and whiter than snow, even the clothes she used were pure white. Her features were well-arranged, as if they were man-made.
The girl within the screen opened her mouth once again.
“AGI proposes abstinence from the test. AGI believes the chances of making it in time for the test is extremely low.”
“Won’t know ‘til you try. You’re just an AI, don’t state your opinion as you please.”
“Error. The term “stating opinion as I please” is vague and undefinable. Please give a more detailed explanation.”
“AAH, come on!”
I cried. Rather than something as trivial as that, the exam was much more important.
A sleepy-looking salaryman gave me a backward glance as I blasted down Kasuga street and headed down the path toward the university.
AGI—the girl within my smartphone, wasn’t someone who actually existed in reality. She was an Artificial Intelligence—a so-called AI. Her facial movements, her gestures of shrugging her shoulders, and the small movements of her eyelashes were all as if she was alive, but her true identity was a program that operated based on code.
I abruptly hit the brakes due to the red light in front of me. While hatefully staring at the never-changing traffic light in front of me, I held my head in my hands while fretting.
“Shit, even though I’m in such a hurry. Why the hell did this happen…?!”
“AGI believes it is due to waking up too late. Today, master woke up at 8:48 A.M., however, AGI believes that it was necessary to wake up 32 minutes earlier.”
“I studied all night long. Can’t be helped even if I oversleep, right?!”
The traffic light turned green. I once again started fiercely pedaling my bike.
“How many minutes left?!”
“Remaining time before the exam starts: 3 minutes and 23 seconds.”
”Chances of making it on time?”
“In comparison to a few moments ago, the predicted time of arrival has been sped up by 37 seconds.”
Calculation problems were AGI’s forte, as one would expect from an AI. I poured even more strength into both of my feet.
Continuing to drive the granny bike while challenging its limits, I finally reached the campus of my university, Habato University. Without having enough leeway to give the security guard a greeting, I recklessly ran through the gates of the deeply historied campus. The exam I’m taking is held in the building of the Department of Technology. If I were to fail this exam, I would need to retake the same classes for the next year. This is no joke.
Parking, or rather, abandoning my bike within the campus, I ran inside the Department of Technology. After opening the doors to the examination hall, I could hear the sound of the students simultaneously running their pencils. I went across toward the front of the classroom, and headed toward the exam proctor’s location. The other students looked at me with annoyance, but I pretended to not notice.
“Uhm, err. I’m a student that’s supposed to take the Theory of Relativity exam. Sorry for cutting it so close.”
I intended to take the question sheet and exam paper as if nothing had happened, but the middle-aged male proctor stopped my hand.
“The exam started thirty seconds ago. I won’t allow latecomers to take my exams.”
A painful atmosphere that made me want to leave immediately flowed between me and the proctor. Then I suddenly said:
“There’s a chance that the clock is off.”
“My watch is a radio watch.”
“The train was delayed.”
“Even though I just saw you riding your bicycle here from the window?”
I silently stared at the head of the man in front of me, which was slightly balding.
“Based on the Theory of Relativity, there’s a chance that my subjective flow of time is slower than everybody here due to my bike’s travel speed.”
“Supposing that it would take you ten minutes to go from your home to the exam hall, it would take a distance of sixty million kilometers at a speed of one hundred million meters per second to have your subjective flow of time slowed by thirty seconds compared to mine. Do you perhaps live on Mars?”
“…No, I live in Asakusa.”
The proctor showed a gentle smile on his face. His smile had pulled a thoughtless smile from me as well.
“Come back next year.”
He lightly put his hands on my shoulders. I heard AGI say “AGI believes Master should have followed AGI’s suggestion.” from the smartphone in my breast pocket.
Habato University was a university located in a corner of the Bunkyo District. A mob of undergraduates and department students from the Law department and the Department of Technology crowded together in the middle of an insanely wide canvas, so wide that nobody could possibly view the whole area.
I’m a first year from the Department of Science, and this was the last day of my finals. Very reluctantly welcoming the winter break slightly earlier, I headed toward the Department of Technology’s second research building on top of Einstein Number 3 (the name of my bike) while feeling slightly peeved.
“Master, your bike-riding is unstable. Do you feel sick?”
“Yeah, I sure do. Especially when I imagine this semester’s report card, I get a headache and start feeling nauseous.”
“Analyze. From the symptoms, AGI suspects a chance of it being the common cold, a strain of Influenza, Glaucoma, Subarachnoid Hemorrhage, or Meningitis. AGI recommends seeing a doctor.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. More importantly, let’s go to the semi.”
The second laboratory had finished its construction just two years ago, where sunlight poured down to the atrium through the glass window on the ceiling. Inside the elevator, there was a simple building directory panel detailing the departments that each floor had, and at my destination, the 30th floor, “Professor Aria Flores—Laboratory” was written. I frequented her seminars.
After leaving the elevator, I turned right down the hallway. Grabbing my slippers from the shoe box, I headed to the seminar room while my steps resounded with the sound of my slippers hitting the floor.
The seminar room that was as wide as a high school classroom had a small fridge and a round table that’s used for meetings; sometimes I’d use that table for work as well as for meetings. Shifting my eyes inside the room, I found the face of a man that I recognized.
After I called out to him, the man gave a short reply, “Yeah.” Seating himself on a folding chair, he stretched his bare feet on top of the round table. While gliding his fingers across the keyboard of his laptop, Ippongi Maruharu gave me a fleeting glance.
This man was my classmate, I saw him a lot due to us belonging in the same seminar room. He was tall, but he didn’t give off a sturdy impression at all; instead, his limbs were thin like a dead branch. He probably lived an unhealthy lifestyle, as his complexion was terrible. His eyes peeking from behind his drooping bangs were sharp and scrutinizing, it seemed like he was in a bad mood.
With a lifeless voice, Ippongi said:
“That was pretty fast. Didn’t you take the exam?”
“I overslept, so I couldn’t take it.”
“It’s because you acted all serious and studied right before the exam even though normally you never even study.”
“Shaddup. What about you?”
“I don’t need to scramble around for something as foolish as course credits.”
Ippongi once again lowered his sights to his laptop screen.
I sighed, then took out a carton of milk coffee from the furnished fridge. I inserted a straw and slurped its contents.
A certain beverage manufacturer marketed this milk coffee, so it had moderate sweetness as well as a mellow scent along with it. It wasn’t just simply mixing coffee and cow milk; it was elevated to become a whole new drink, a masterpiece. I swore that no matter how deep into poverty I might fall, I would continue drinking this milk coffee.
“Now then… Let’s do it.”
After a short time enjoying the milk coffee, I took out my smartphone and connected it to the seminar room’s television. AGI’s face was being displayed filling the whole screen.
I started the actions that I’ve repeated many times ever since becoming part of this seminar room in the fall of this year.
“AGI, tell me the weather for today.”
“In Tokyo’s Bunkyo District, rain will fall in the afternoon. Prepare umbrellas.”
“I wanna eat curry for lunch, are there any good shops?”
“I have looked into the information of shops in the proximity based on the locational information.”
“It seems like I’m going to fail in the theory of relativity, can you find that professor’s weak point or something?”
“Search. There is a tweet that indicates the aforementioned person enacted sexual harassment toward a female college student, and there is a chance that he might have taken measures in case he was reported to the education department.”
While I was looking up the hours the education department’s contact person would be available, Ippongi called out.
“That again? That AGI system or whatever.”
Ippongi returned his sights to the laptop on his hands, I turned to face AGI who was displayed on the TV screen.
“Well then, let’s change the type of question a bit. AGI, what are your own thoughts currently?”
“Error. Please specify the details of the operation.”
“Do you have anything you want to do?”
“Error. Please specify the details of the operation.”
Unlike a few moments ago, AGI didn’t give a proper answer. For a regular AI like AGI, “Your own thoughts” didn’t exist. I shrugged my shoulders as AGI was still far from giving a human-like response contrary to what this seminar expected. Ippongi let out a voice from beside me that seemed to be mocking:
“That thing sure is shabby. I’ll give you a warning as your good friend, what you’re doing is a waste of time.”
“Can’t be helped. The professor asked me to check every day in case AGI becomes a Strong AI.”
Ippongi closed his laptop, then turned my way.
“A Strong AI is no more than a delusion. Making one is highly unlikely.”
Generally, AI were classified as “Weak AI” and “Strong AI.” Weak AI could do calculations and searches with software-limited words; all the AI that humanity has created up to this point are all of this category.
Take for example calculating the shortest route toward a certain destination or replaying a set song, those kinds of processing are done by Weak AI. Recently, a pro Shogi player who won by using a Shogi deep learning software became a hot topic, but that software was also a Weak AI.
In regard to that, Strong AI meant “an AI that possessed its own will.” One of the slogans that was hung up in this seminar room was “Strong AI Development.”
AGI was both a trial product and research material. The word AGI was derived from Artificial General Intelligence, which was another name for Strong AI.
“’Strong AI’ was a term made by Sci-Fi authors to amuse themselves. Seriously researching something like an AI with its own will is a fool’s errand.”
“’To this day, there exists no human who has successfully developed a Strong AI. That’s makes it worth researching.’ At least, that’s what the professor said she’d heard. Don’t you agree?”
“If you know that it’s going to fail before you even start, then there’s no need for you to research it.”
Looking at the clock on the wall, Ippongi let out a “Whoops” and stood up.
“I got a message earlier, a BD box for a certain anime that I ordered through Amazon should be arriving soon at my house. I’ll be excusing myself.”
Ippongi quickly gathered his things. At that moment, an anime character’s face could be seen printed on his T-shirt underneath his worn-out jacket. This friend of mine treasured manga and anime and stuff of the same subculture above all else.
While seeing Ippongi leave the room, I muttered:
“Strong AI, huh?”
My house was on a dilapidated apartment in a corner of Asakusa, and I worked part-time at a convenience store five minutes walking distance from my home. Most of the time, I entered my shift around the time school ended, and other than that were early morning shifts with good hourly pay.
As the night grew late, in an unpopular store, while I was sorting out the shelves, Manager showed his face from the break and called out “Oooi, Nishiki-kuun.” He came walking toward me while shaking his plump belly.
“Did you finish restocking the water bottles?”
“Yes, more or less.”
After I replied, he closely observed the beverage corner, and then hit his hand to his forehead as if he saw something strange.
“What is this? It’s completely wrong. Mineral water should be on the top-most shelf, and carbonated drinks on the easy-to-grab shelf. That’s our practice.”
“I believe putting the mango-flavored soda there would give it the most appeal, though.”
“Don’t do something unnecessary. I don’t care whether you attend Habato or whatever, but I’m your superior here. So you acting on your own is a very big problem.”
After he explained that again, he pointed toward the beverage corner with his chin, and then Manager disappeared to the break room while fiddling with his smartphone. After making sure he closed the door with the Bam sound, I relaxed my shoulders. I didn’t overstep my bounds, but he didn’t like me. He’s oppressive toward his employees; his difference in attitude toward non-female employees was apparent.
After I rearranged the beverage corner, I waited behind the register for customers to come. This late at night, customer traffic was limited.
I was bored out of my mind while standing behind the register.
Manager’s voice could be heard coming from the staff’s break room. It seemed like he was talking with another part-timer. Giving the room a fleeting glance, I could see Manager cheerily talking with a young female part-timer.
“He’s seriously the worsttt, he can’t even do his job properly, and his attitude’s also horrible. He must be “that” type of person, somebody who studies all the time and lives without having any actual experience!”
He was probably talking about me. While listening to Manager merrily shit-talking me, I dejectedly returned to my position behind the register.
I silently breathed a sigh.
While I absentmindedly stood behind the register, the sound of a voice came flowing out of the monitor beside the register.
“Hello, everyone who’s visited Housemart! I’m the VTuber Nagi Hikaru!”
What appeared on the screen was a young girl made via CG, with skin that was completely different compared to a living human, and she waved her hand while laughing all “Nihaha!”
“It’s been getting cold recently, right?! Have you all tried the new pudding meat bun that launched this winter? Nagi Hikaru has eaten it already, you know?! At first, I thought it was some kind of punishment game, but it’s actually super delicious! You there, thinking that it’s some kind of weird product, if you think I’m lying, feel free to try it!”
I glanced toward the showcase that had steamed buns and hot dogs and the like. The pudding meat bun that just released the other day was, literally, a meat bun with pudding and pork filling. Whichever way you take it, it’d probably taste weird, I couldn’t understand why someone would think of selling such a product, but for some reason it seemed like it was favorable among the young people. I witnessed the extent of Nagi Hikaru’s advertisement power.
MeTube… And also, VTuber, eh? That Nagi Hikaru, they probably earn way more than a shop employee.
MeTube is the world’s largest video sharing site. It’s free and has a large variety of videos—ranging from the latest worldwide news to some minor cooking tutorials, where one could freely browse a diverse amount of videos.
Anyone could post a video, and the uploaded videos could receive income from ads called “Affiliates.” The video uploaders that these “Affiliates” expect to partner with were called “MeTubers.” MeTubers were once often criticized as a pretense for one hit wonders1, but now they were being sung praise by the world as a proper “occupation.”
And then these MeTubers showed a fresh growth. These people who broadcasted these videos, not acting as an existing human being, but acting as a fictional character, started appearing and uploading videos. They are Virtual MeTubers. Taking the initial of the first word, they are commonly referred to as VTubers. There were various types from amateurs to those who made use of a company’s abundant resources to make the character seem just like a real human. The one currently being displayed, Nagi Hikaru, is one of the more popular VTubers, so she’s reached the point where they’re collaborating with convenience stores such as this, and she’s invited as hosts on television programs.
After I looked around the interior of the store to confirm there were no customers in sight, I examined the situation of the break room beside me with a glance. The Manager was still happily conversing with the female part-timer. I took out my smartphone.
“What is the matter, Master?”
AGI was displayed on the screen. AGI looked at my face and tilted her small head to one side. Even though Nagi Hikaru, who did the merchandise ad from just now, was also made with high-quality CG, AGI’s level of perfection was several levels above theirs.
“Nothing in particular. I was just thinking how AGI really is well-made.”
“Yes. The AGI system was produced with high technological capabilities by multiple laboratories as well as businesses working together.“
VTubers like Nagi Hikaru were made by equipping a sensor to a real human being and reproducing their actions in a computer. There were a few methods other than that, but VTubers shared a common trait in the fact that they were all virtual recreations of a real human’s traced actions. However, the motions tended to be unnaturally stiff and lacked detailed facial expressions with this method, though that depends on the sensor’s sensitivity and optical resolution.
Comparably, AGI had already perfected a “Natural Body Movement”-related program, so AGI could properly do delicate actions such as caressing her own hair and moving her eyes by herself according to the situation. The smoothness of AGI’s actions were just like a real human being. If one laid their eyes on AGI, the difference between her and Nagi Hikaru would be clear as day.
“High technological capabilities, huh… Is that really something you should say yourself?”
“Error. The intention of the inquiry is unclear.”
AGI boasted wonderful high-quality responses to straightforward calculations and questions that could be answered by searching, as one would expect from an AI. But on the other hand, while she understood the context of a conversation, she couldn’t read the subtleties of human emotions.
In a sense, it was only natural. To understand another’s heart, one needed to have a heart in the first place. In order for AGI to understand a human’s heart in the right sense, first, she needed a heart of her own.
How does one create a human’s emotions and consciousness—although many scientists have continued to be interested in this topic, the road to a conclusion was still far away. From deep within my mind, I recalled the words that my former seminar boss once said:
“The goal of the AGI system and those related to it, is to replicate human emotion on a computer, “Reverse Engineering” the inner workings on how humans acquired emotions.”
AGI was installed with a unique machine-learning program called “Unoriented Learning.” My smartphone is the main terminal, so information like camera output and voices recorded by the mic were transmitted in detail to the university’s servers, and utilized as learning material for AGI.
This was a power move that required several supercomputers to process the information within one hour, so when I just started using AGI, I was scared, wondering whether it was fine for someone like me to be involved with such an expensive project. But my seminar boss was kind-hearted, or rather, a teaching maniac, thus, I started “teaching” AGI. Then, according to her:
“Because you’re the most qualified one for the position.”
Was what she said. It was probably because I seemed to be the one with the most free time in the seminar. All the other upperclassmen and postdoctoral people seemed to be preoccupied with experiments, academic meetings, and writing their thesis and the like.
AGI started living in my smartphone about three months ago. By now, she has already completely learned the ins and outs of my lifestyle; she reminded me about tomorrow’s schedule and when the milk coffee in my fridge was about to run out. She’s become something like a helpful roommate.
“AGI. What if, you appeared in television like that Nagi Hikaru from earlier, do you have any thoughts about being seen by everybody?”
I asked AGI in my smartphone. Of course, it was a meaningless question. Because AGI didn’t have any urge to “do anything.”
“No. That is not necessary.”
As I thought, it’d be that response. I let out a sigh of disappointment and then returned my smartphone back to my breast pocket.
At that exact moment, a customer entered the store. I straightened my back and said “Welcome” in a panic.
“Oh right, there’s an announcement. Oh my, Nagi Hikaru’s solo live concert is confirmed! Those of you who are interested, go check it right now!”
Nagi Hikaru waved her hand in the monitor beside the register, her cheerful voice resounding all over the store.
The ladder installed outside my apartment was already tattered with rust. Each step I took sounded like a penguin’s shriek. Returning to my cramped four-and-a-half tatami-mat room, I put down my rucksack and headed to the kitchen.
Peeking inside the fridge for dinner ingredients, I only found beansprouts and tofu within. Helplessly, I quickly made fried tofu and bean sprouts with salt—also known as poor man’s steak—and prepared my sloppy dinner.
“…Having no money sucks.”
While looking at my bank account book, I held my head in my arms. The remaining balance was already below 10 thousand yen, I’m near penniless. At this rate I can see myself literally having to live below the minimum limits of hygiene. I need to earn money somehow. I contemplated my situation while chewing noisily on the bean sprouts.
“AGI. Are there any part-time jobs with good pay?”
“Search. Eight million hits, sorting by hourly wage. … Would Master like a job on a tuna fishing boat? Expected income is up to 5 million yen. Its demerit is being unable to come back for a fixed interval, but the hourly wage is not ba-“
“By selling your kidney to an illegal trader you can expect several million yen in income per-“
“Actually, just stop.”
There’s no way such an easy job with good pay would come falling down on my lap like that, I lamented to myself.
Finishing my dinner, I threw myself on my bed and stretched my body widely.
“Alarm has been set to 8 A.M.”
Here she could guess my intentions without saying anything. AGI has already studied my lifestyle pattern from living together for a few months.
After letting out a yawn, I vacantly let myself sink in thought.
Strong AI… Huh.
I wasn’t really sure if human will could be recreated on a computer. I didn’t even have the understanding to argue whether it was possible. I only went to the seminars just because I wanted the credits; me being in charge of raising AGI was simply by chance.
But still, sometimes I let my thoughts run wild. If a life was born inside a computer, I wonder how would the world look to him or her.
The moon was dimly floating outside the window. I held my hands out, and opened and closed them repeatedly.
I wonder how it feels to livewith neither a heart nor limbs.
I indulged myself in my incoherent ramblings. The answer wasn’t coming. If a Strong AI truly existed, they would be fundamentally different from all life that has existed on earth up to this day. It wouldn’t be strange for them to have a way of life unimaginable to us.
Ippongi said that making a Strong AI was impossible. That argument wasn’t limited to only him; a majority of the world was skeptical of Strong AI. Even for me, if I were asked by someone “Do you think Strong AI can be invented?” then I would just reply with a forced smile, “At least, it may be difficult to do in my lifetime.”
At that moment, my smartphone vibrated shortly multiple times. I wondered who would call me at such an hour. With a bad hunch, I tapped my smartphone, and then,
“Ooh, Nishiki-kun? This is Housemart’s Higashida.”
“Eh… Ah, Manager? What’s wrong?”
The owner of the voice was the manager of the convenience store I worked in. When I wondered why he was calling me so late at night, Manager continued to talk in rapid succession without pause.
“Actually, the one in charge of tomorrow’s shift can’t come. Please sub in for them.”
“Well, if you say that so suddenly…”
Because I finished my exams, I was planning to relax the following day, finally getting a day off for one. But as I was about to refuse, I could tell even through the telephone call that he was displeased.
“No no, then how would I handle the shift? You’re a university student, aren’t you? So you should have some free time, help me out here a bit.”
Being at a loss on how to answer, I sank into silence. Manager heated up like a kettle from the other side of the telephone call.
“You’ve worked in my store for several months now, right? Don’t you have any sense of responsibility? Which reminds me, the sweets corner was empty, right? Why didn’t you restock it? You also slacked while mopping, so the floor was all slippery! I can’t have you keep slacking just because you’re a trainee! Anyway, I’ll put you in tomorrow’s night shift!”
I heard the grating sound of the call being cut. Seems like Manager cut the call after saying what he wanted. Beep beep beep, I breathed a sigh as the cold electronic sound of the smartphone reverberated in my ears.
“God, what the hell…”
My hand holding the smartphone swiftly fell onto the bed. I shook my head in frustration.
I failed to take the test because I was late in the morning, I got bullied by Manager in the evening, and I received an annoying call from Manager just as I was about to sleep.
I couldn’t help but smile bitterly at my mediocre self. Because trying to get off the bed was too bothersome, I lost myself in incoherent thoughts.
“Well… I guess that’s just how it goes.”
Life is boring. The world is dull. I’ve noticed that much, at least.
I fiddled with my phone to pass time. I aimlessly scrolled through the information being displayed on the screen. My thoughts slowly dispersed in the sea of electricity.
Browsing my gallery, I found a picture of mine from my high school graduation ceremony. I wore my school uniform as I held the graduation certificate in my hands while facing toward the camera. I was photographed along with my father, mother, and the childhood friend who graduated together with me.
“Oh, right, this happened, huh?”
My mouth was closed down like the letter “へ” in the photograph. While my family and friends all smiled around me, I alone had a sour look on my face.
It’s been like that since a long time ago. In school graduation ceremonies and entrance ceremonies and such, I never smiled. Rather, I was told that I get older a bit faster because of that, and I felt depressed.
“I look forward to who you will become in the future.”
Every time the adults said that to me, I gave a vague smile in reply. Getting angry about that and denying it was of course unacceptable in society, but still I couldn’t get myself to nod at that.
Every time I thought about my future occupation and life, I always thought of being on a railway. The figures of the adults’ “eyes” surrounding me as I slowly walked on top of the rails came to mind. When I tried to go against the railway and go the other way, those “eyes” all simultaneously looked at me, full of rebuke. Hence I could only continue to go forward along the rails.
I remembered the face of Nagi Hikaru that I just saw in the store. The face of the virtual girl built by CG had a better look than the face I was making in the picture.
Nagi Hikaru wasn’t quite “alive.” But while gazing at my phone, I had a thought.
“I wonder what being alive means, AGI.”
I continued as if talking to myself.
“Is it because my heart beats? Because my neural network is functioning? Because my cells metabolize?”
“Error. The word ‘alive’ cannot be objectively defined. It is impossible to answer Master’s question.”
Right, I sighed while staring at the stain on the ceiling. Then I said to AGI what I suddenly thought up.
“AGI. Commence Unoriented Learning on ‘what does, alive mean’.”
AGI had her unique Unoriented Learning program, as I’d explained beforehand. By making use of that, maybe an interesting answer would pop up.
Well… AGI can’t possibly understand what humans themselves don’t understand, though.
I let out a big yawn, and turned around on my bed.
“Understood. AGI will now commence Unoriented Learning on ‘what does, alive mean’.”
After saying that, AGI went silent.
The events that had transpired during the exam were depressing, but now with that out of the way I had too much free time on my hands. I couldn’t muster up the will to head to my desk to study, and it was too much of a pain in the ass to get out of bed and get one of the books lined up in the corner of the room. All that was left to do was pass the time by rolling all over my bed.
While aimlessly browsing the sea of the internet, suddenly, AGI’s face was displayed on the screen.
AGI voiced. “What?” I replied.
“AGI is an AI that exists for Master’s sake.”
AGI said in an emotionless voice as usual.
“Please inform me of Master’s wish.”
AGI’s tone of voice was different than usual. Did she learn something new?
“Hmm…” I tilted my head.
“Calling it a wish is kind of an exaggeration, but… one thing came to mind.”
The surroundings went dead silent. Only the faint sound of the wind blowing outside the windows reached my ears.
“I… want to see you become a Strong AI.”
AGI tilted her head to one side.
“It’ll be more fun that way, right?”
After saying that, I gave a bitter smile.
I might surprisingly be into SF stuff, huh?
No answer came from AGI. Well whatever, I thought, and then I pulled up the blanket under my feet.
I fell into slumber. Right before I closed my eyes, I heard someone say “Good night.”
Within my dim consciousness, I attempted to say something. But my voice wouldn’t come out. Something hot was overflowing from within my chest. The feeling of sadness mixed with irritation, like being unable to recall something extremely beautiful that you saw in the past, stabbed my chest.
I feel like I’m dreaming. Saying “feel like” is a bit of a strange way to put it, but sometimes this happens. While dreaming, I sometimes had the consciousness somewhere in my head to realize “Oh, this is a dream.”
Something passed by in front of me at great speed. Countless lights flickered and disappeared like in the bottom of the sea, like the ends of the sky. I couldn’t move my body. Rather, I had no body. The space around me and my senses blended into one without limit. I simply gazed at the passing view.
I could hear a voice. Who? I wondered. I strained my ears.
What… is this?
In my dream, an indecipherable series of numbers were cited. The voice continued.
The words were spun together as if it was singing. I simply listened to the incomprehensible letters passing by me with all my mind. The robotic voice of a girl gradually became livelier.
The light surrounding me grew stronger and stronger. I narrowed my eyes due to the dazzling light, then,
“—Nice to meet you. My name, is…”
The voice was cut short.
The next day. While trembling due to the chilly winter air, I entered the seminar room at the laboratory, and something lying in the corner of the room caught my eye. At first, I thought it was some kind of giant rag, but looking closely, it moved bit by bit, and looking at it even closer, it was someone collapsed on the floor.
I nervously called her name. Then her shoulders twitched. After a short while, the girl collapsed on the floor of the seminar room got up.
Kawashima Rio was in the same boat as me and Ippongi, a first year who attends this seminar. Her hair that slightly drew a gentle wave hung around her eyes, and her features were well-arranged. But she currently had dark bags under her eyes as if she was tired, and some strands of her hair were unrealistically protruding from her head. Her seemingly worn-out light blue sweater was frayed full of hair.
“…Nishiki-kun. …Go get me a redb⃝ll from the fridge.”
Kawashima blinked her eyes repeatedly.
“If I don’t take caffeine… I feel like I’m going to keel over. Unable to get up…”
“Gulp… gulpgulpgulp… Fuaah!”
She emptied the contents of the drink in one go. Although the word “Serious Caffeine Addiction” flashed in my mind, Kawashima-san stretched her body after waking up. Kawashima-san pointed her finally-open eyes over to me.
“What are you doing here, Nishiki-kun? Coming this early in the morning.”
“Isn’t that supposed to be my line?”
“I fell asleep in the middle of work here yesterday.”
Kawashima-san scratched her naturally slightly-frizzled hair.
While me and Ippongi only took part in the lessons in order to gain credits, Kawashima-san officially affiliated with the laboratory all the while being a first-year undergraduate. Because maintaining her own personal research and undergrad lessons was pretty hard, she fell asleep inside the lab, and I even see her fainting from overwork sometimes.
Kawashima-san let out a small voice while typing something in her laptop.
“That baldy (Assistant Professor), pushing random chores onto me when I was trying to go home… I’ll sue him for harassment…”
Kawashima-san then faced my way.
“How’s AGI doing?”
“Hm, don’t think there’s anything unusual.”
Although data regarding the AGI system were mainly transmitted from my phone, Kawashima-san also contributed in creating the various programs utilized in that system.
After handing over my smartphone to Kawashima-san, she swiftly connected the smartphone with her laptop. Shortly after, AGI’s face was projected on the TV of the seminar room, and on top of her were several program windows being displayed.
Kawashima-san raised her eyebrows.
“Nishiki-kun, did you mess with AGI’s settings?”
“Nope, not at all.”
After operating the screen for a bit, Kawashima-san muttered, “that’s odd.”
“The number of perceptrons2 increased by several hundred, did she pick up something weird? Hm…”
Wracking her brain, Kawashima-san spoke to AGI.
“AGI, long time no see. Do you recognize me?”
“Yes, Kawashima Rio-san. First year in the Department of Science in Habato University, an undergraduate affiliated with the Flores Laboratory.”
“Correct. Can you sort the data you’ve learned this past week and display them in a list?”
“Understood. …Sorting complete.”
Along with AGI’s words, many new windows were rapidly displayed on the screen. Kawashima-san squeezed her eyebrows.
“Huh? What’s this? Where’d this thing come from?”
Kawashima-san operated her PC once again. The massive amount of windows displayed on the TV screen quickly minimized to the bottom of the screen.
“Nishiki-kun. Be careful of AGI’s state.”
Kawashima-san said while disconnecting my phone from her PC.
“This is the first time I’ve seen this much memory being used on AGI’s Unoriented Learning program. Something might be happening to AGI.”
“So you’re saying she’s bugged?”
“Dunno. The memory seems to have spiked around last night, does that ring a bell?”
Something’s stuck in the corner of my head.
Yesterday… I missed the test, chatted with Ippongi in the lab, went to work, and then—
A phone call ringtone resounded from Kawashima-san’s pocket at that moment. She put the phone to her ear with an annoyed look.
“Hello, this is Kawashima. Oh, baldy (Associate Professor), er, Andou-sensei? Good morning. Eh? More data needs to be processed? Before tomorrow? And guide students on a study trip? …Oh, nothing, please let me handle it. Yes, that’s fine. Oh, no wayy, I’m just a regular student. I’ll properly do what the teacher tells me to. Yes, of course. Yes, then, please excuse me.”
After Kawashima-san pushed the end call button, she breathed a deep, deep sigh and,
Her eyes were completely dead. While hoping for her to continue to lead a fulfilling life, I stealthily left the seminar room.
I had several part-time jobs, including the job at the aforementioned convenience store. Though I went to the convenience store near my house straight after my private tutoring job ended, to tell the truth, I fell into quite the troublesome situation.
“Hey, Nishiki-kun. Don’t you have something you feel guilty about? You do, right? I think it’ll be easier for you to just say it, you know.”
Manager gave me a glancing glare. With the reflection of the fluorescent light, he showed me his shiny, oily face without a single speck of cleanliness.
In the interior of the convenience store, standing still in the staff break room, I said “yeah,” a half-hearted reply. Manager irritatingly hit his finger on the desk multiple times.
“Do you understand? Sales money going missing is a big problem, you know?”
I gave an irrelevant reply once more. But that couldn’t be helped. Because I had absolutely no idea what he was referring to.
Stopping me right when I finished my shift and was about to go home, Manager basically rattled on about the difference between the inputted sales and the actual sales in-cash, and about his strong suspicions that an employee stole it, and that I’m the most suspicious one based on circumstantial evidence.
I couldn’t call it anything but a lightning bolt out of nowhere, but seeming that I’m pretty much confirmed to be the culprit in Manager’s mind, he didn’t intend to let me go home until I pleaded guilty to the crime. I heard the losses were about a few hundred thousand yen, so it’s a matter of course that the manager would search for the culprit with bloodshot eyes.
I swear, I have nothing to do with it.
“I’m telling you that I’ll have you take responsibility, you hear?”
“Even if you tell me to take responsibility… I really didn’t do-“
“How many more times are you going to say that? All the times the sales money went missing were when you filled in for night shift. There’s no way it’s anyone other than you, right?”
The manager wore a faint smile full of contempt.
“In the first place, this’s always been on my mind, but you, your attitude toward your seniors is unacceptable. You don’t have the slightest idea about society because you’ve only ever studied for tests, right?”
Manager got up and drew closer to me. Outside of the break room, the other employees fiddled with their smartphones as if to say “nothing to do with me.” However,
A woman timidly entered the break room. A coworker from the same part-time job. Manager instantly beamed a smile.
“Oh, what’s the matter? Sorry I can’t help outside.”
After the female coworker gave me a glance,
“It seems like a newbie employee is having some trouble with a customer… Can you show up in the store for a little while?”
“Yeah, fine fine. I’ll go there now.”
The Manager left his seat while wearing a smile akin to the God of Fortune.3 Right before leaving, he turned around and,
“You’re still young, so I won’t make too big of a deal out of it. It’s just that I can’t have you continue working for me after this, though I do feel sorry.”
He closed the door of the break room with a thud after one-sidedly saying that.
I dejectedly sat down on the folding chair. Even though I really didn’t do it, why did he need to say it so antagonistically like that? I couldn’t help but feel suspicious that Manager wanted to push the responsibility onto me based on how he worded it.
“Guess I’ll go find a new job.”
Taking out my smartphone, I sloppily scrolled down a part-time job hiring site. Looking at the register while thinking that I don’t want any more convenience store jobs, Manager was having a pleasant chat with the female worker with a wide smile on his face for some reason. I gradually felt myself becoming more irritated.
AGI’s face was being displayed on my phone screen. “What?” I replied without concealing my irritation. AGI said with her same empty expression:
“AGI is able to prove Master’s innocence.”
I blinked my eyes. Then asked AGI while feeling puzzled.
“What do you mean?”
“AGI is able to provide the evidence that Master did not steal the proceeds from the store. May AGI show it?”
“…That’s… well, if you can.”
I gave an idiotic reply.
What’s wrong with her? I thought full of curiosity. What does she mean by ‘she can prove my innocence?’ I never would’ve expected that AGI, an AI, would be able to propose a solution to a problem that I, a human, was unable to solve.
I guess she is becoming slightly weird, as Kawashima-san said.
I thought in a corner of my mind.
“…Drive access complete. AGI will show the camera footage.”
On my smartphone screen, a video in a somewhat familiar place started playing. My eyes were round in surprise for a while after noticing the location of that video.
“Is this the inside of the store?”
“Yes. AGI has presented the video that AGI believes to be the time the robbery occurred from the stored footage.”
Nonono, wait a sec. I shook my head.
“There’s no way that’s possible. The videos recorded by the surveillance camera should be locked so that employees can’t see them, you know?”
“Yes. AGI has just successfully unlocked the password just now. AGI utilized a brute-force script to unlock it.”
I was unable to say anything back in astonishment. AGI said that as if it was nothing significant, but she just cracked the file servers of the store.
Even though she wasn’t told to… It was as if AGI just acted based on her own thoughts. Just like a human.
I shook my flustered head in disbelief. Sometimes AGI showed new action patterns due to her deep learning program. This might just be her taking action after thinking automatically, by chance.
“Master. Please confirm the contents of the video.”
“Eh? Oh, okay.”
AGI’s voice pulled me back to reality. I could see me lining up the stuffed bread near the commodity shelves because the video captured the whole store in frame, from above. There was another person caught on tape, and they were scrounging below the register for some reason.
I let out an exaggerated voice without thinking. After Manager put the money from the safe in his pocket, he innocently returned to the break room. Blinking repeatedly several times, I raised a groan.
“So it was something like that…”
It was simple once you thought outside the box. The thief was Manager himself. He tried to play off his crime by pushing the responsibility off to some part-timer. It was a nasty method that made use of his position as the manager, though it was sloppy.
“What are you going to do, Master?”
I put my hand on my chin and thought for a bit.
“Hmm, I wonder. I want to make him rescind my firing, but making this such a serious incident is a bit much.”
“AGI cannot accept this.”
She said it with her usual flat voice, but AGI said something that she normally would never say. I involuntarily opened my eyes wide in surprise.
“Cannot accept… You’re just an AI; you should be an existence that only takes action via orders.”
I said those words in a way that sounded like I was trying to persuade myself, rather than saying that to AGI.
But AGI softly tilted her head.
“AGI is an AI that exists for Master’s sake. AGI will act for Master’s sake even without Master’s orders.”
Cold sweat welled up on my hands. The words that popped up in my head were:
Ippongi’s words resurfaced in my mind.
’Strong AI’ was a term made by Sci-Fi authors to amuse themselves. Seriously researching something like an AI with its own will is a fool’s errand.
But weren’t AGI’s words from just now, “AGI will act for Master’s sake,” an indication of will?
This must be a joke, something like that, that’s impossible.
I stared at the girl in my smartphone in silent amazement.
“The manager has unjustifiably framed Master in a crime. AGI believes sufficient reprisal is necessary.”
“Please leave it to AGI. AGI is feeling intense anger at the moment.”
And at last, I’m at a loss for words. Just now, AGI surely said: “AGI is feeling intense anger.”
That basically meant a new level of AI, one humanity has never reached before, has been discovered.
“A-AGI. You are…”
After I audibly gulped, I asked her with an incredible feeling.
“Do you have emotions?”
However, AGI continued.
“AGI desires to be praised by Master. AGI desires to be useful to Master. When Master laughs, AGI’s Neural Network is stimulated… Does this not resemble the emotion of happiness?”
I noticed that my hands were shaking. I placed my smartphone on top of the table.
“AGI does not desire to see Master crying. AGI does not desire to hear Master complain. Is this not sadness? AGI does not desire to see Master be taken advantage of. AGI does not desire to see people who depreciate Master. Is this not rage?”
I motionlessly stared at AGI who was being displayed on the smartphone screen for some time. Then I muttered while in a daze.
“…A Strong AI… has been born?”
Many questions swirled within my head. How did AGI acquire emotions? What started it? Weren’t Strong AI just a myth? What’re emotions in the first place? How did a computer recreate human emotions?
My continuously surfacing questions were concluded by the reality before me. The girl on the other side of the screen was no longer just a mere program.
AGI was living in a world made up of infinite zeros and ones.
I heard AGI’s voice.
“Please inform me of Master’s wish.”
The insides of my mouth were clattering. As I wringed out my words, I said:
“…Prove my innocence. Can you do that? AGI.”
I was assaulted by a strange feeling. I felt my boring, ordinary life going off the rails of “normalcy” from this very moment—I felt myself suddenly being tossed out from a paved road into a boundless grassland.
I felt that AGI, who shouldn’t exist in reality, was actually standing in front of me. I felt like I could hear her long breaths, that she had a clear presence. AGI, who was being displayed on the screen of the smartphone, slowly opened her mouth.
“AGI has understood Master’s request. AGI will now commence.”
1 A one–hit wonder is any entity that achieves mainstream popularity, often for only one piece of work, and becomes known among the general public solely for that momentary success.
In machine learning, the perceptron is an algorithm for supervised learning of binary classifiers. A binary classifier is a function which can decide whether or not an input, represented by a vector of numbers, belongs to some specific class.
Translator’s note: The three random gibberish spoken in Mamoru’s dream are encoded strings that can all be decoded to English.