Episode 4 – The Gene of AI

The Gene of AI heard you liked short self-contained stories, so it put a vignette in your vignette so you can anthologize while you anthologize. While the episode title promises 4 cases, the true number is closer to 3.2, with the final section functioning like an afterthought. Still, that nets us three complete parables about how AI intersects with romance, and despite the futuristic setting, a hefty chunk of this material reflects issues ripped from current headlines. Gene‘s approach may not always be as thoughtful as I’d like, but you certainly can’t accuse it of not being timely.

The first case, Risa’s, is both the silliest and the closest to our current capabilities. We can imagine Risa and her friend Reon offscreen feeding prompts into one of those AI art clients until it spits out their ideal scenario. And true to form, the results they get are a smattering of dull anime cliches that fail to slake Risa’s thirst for Sudo’s hot emotionless bod. Notably, these films have none of the uncanniness of current AI art. They’ve presumably ironed all that out in their world, but their lack of satisfaction suggests that even a perfect algorithm can fail its audience. While the obvious conclusion to draw from this segment is that these flights of fantasy are no substitute for reality, I think it also speaks to the hard limit of algorithmically generated images and “art.” If all they can do, at best, is regurgitate what has been fed to them, then they’ll never amount to anything more than a novelty. They’ll become less of a novelty if their kinks are ever straightened out because those weird imperfections are arguably the only bit of a unique identity they possess.

The second case takes the idea of a surrogate AI lover a step further by introducing a lifelike VR girlfriend who can imitate anybody you’d like. So naturally high school boys are using it to jerk off. Despite the oddly placed quotation from the Gospel of Matthew, this narrative follows a moral arc we’ve already seen in Gene: Sudo warns Nozaki that even if the virtual world is fake, the impact on his brain will be real, and this portends his colossal bag fumble with Sasaki later on. For what it’s worth, the kid’s intentions don’t feel malicious, and he comes across like a normal teenage horndog who defaulted to thinking with his lower head. However, the writing’s perspective is very male-centric, and it fails to adequately consider how this technology would affect the unwitting girls who are being turned into holograms. While the story doesn’t shy away from the disquieting aspects of this arrangement, especially in its conclusion, its overall tone feels a lot more jocular and superficial than it could or should be.

The union of sex and technology is a fascinating subject, and I’m sure hundreds of theses have been written on how the internet and social media have changed the way people hook up. But these advances have also opened up new avenues for abuse, and the one this case brings to mind is deepfake porn. Essentially, that’s what these boys are making when they’re modeling Nana after their classmates. It’s too easy to imagine a scenario where this can be misused for harassment. Even if we consider a best-case scenario where this software is strictly regulated and offenses are heavily punished, there are still whole cans of worms left wide open, like privacy rights and data ownership. Do you want an AI-generated nude 3D model of yourself floating around out of your control inside some video game corporation’s server farm? Nobody is gonna stop anyone from fantasizing about other people. That’s human nature. But supplementing these natural impulses with advanced technology creates much thornier scenarios. And if The Gene of AI wanted to be truly incisive, I think a female perspective would have behooved this story.

The third case is furthest removed from our reality, yet it’s also the one in which technology matters the least. The meat of this conflict has almost nothing to do with a serial-cheating humanoid installing a button on his neck that instantly deflates his boner. It’s just a story about how complicated human relationships are, and how bad individuals are at analyzing and improving themselves. Hide wanted to blame all of his troubles on his libido, but the truth is that he was always a boring guy who sparked nothing except the fires of Kayo’s jealousy. He’s the kind of guy who would seek out the easiest and most brainless solution. He didn’t care enough about Kayo to put in an honest effort to improve himself, so it’s no wonder she left him once those fireworks faded. And like many of Gene‘s vignettes, it ends on an unsettling and unresolved note, leaving the audience to wonder if Hide has learned that he can’t just switch his issues on and off.

The fourth case, if you want to call it that, is a single scene that suggests Reon has an unrequited crush on Risa. I guess it’s nice to get some additional queer representation this week (I’m not counting the AI-generated Yaoi), but I would have preferred this to be expanded upon instead of quickly alluded to at the last minute. That echoes my overall feelings on this episode too. While I didn’t mind the vignette structure, it hampered the potential complexity of these propositions, and the writing shied away from perspectives that would have made these inquiries fresher and more subversive. There’s nothing wrong with a buffet, but they’re never quite as satisfying as you’d like them to be.


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Steve is on Twitter until the day it completely succumbs to the t-shirt bots. You can also catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.

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