I did write on Anime Power Rankings that I was somewhat interested in Yui from Sword Art Online, not only because she is voiced Itou Kanae (also voiced Saten from Railgun, Elsie from TWGOK and Ringo from Ookami, all pretty cool characters), but mainly because she is an AI, and heck, there are so much stuff to talk about AIs.
What is AI?
“Love…Ai…I” -Kudryavka Noumi from Little Busters
According to Kud, AI, or artificial intelligence relates both to self and love, which while I’m totally quoting her out of context, is not totally off. Artificial intelligence, as the name implies, is intelligence that is artificiality created, or more specifically it is the “intelligence of machines” (Wikipedia) [Disclaimer: I have not taken any AI courses and hence my knowledge of AI is very limited, I'm reading that Wikipedia article at this very moment] and usually would also imply the study to create the such intelligence. Also more specifically, researchers are usually interested in recreating the human intellect in machines (hence the self from Kud’s quote). Yet, at the same time, and as anyone that have contacted media that discusses AI (ie Bicentennial Man, even though I didn’t actually watch the movie) , not only are there technical challenges to create an AI, there are also ethical, social, relational and other issues (hence the love from Kud’s quote) that arises related to AI.
While we have yet to have an AI system that can fully emulate a human brain, there are already commercial solutions that takes advantages of the advances in AI and computer science that can emulate some functionality of the human brain, sometimes even performing faster than humans could in the same function. One of such example is IBM’s Watson (Disclaimer: I did a co-op with IBM before once, but is currently not employed by IBM), which outperformed all of its opponents in the Jeopardy! games Watson appeared in. The concept behind of Watson is that it has a large database of data stored and every time it is asked a question, Watson will parse the question, search the database, return several potential results, finally analyzing and returning the most likely answer. How the Watson stores the data can be likened to how we stores our memories and search and return them back out when necessary. Another neat thing about Watson is that it has the ability to “learn from his mistakes”, just like how humans learns from mistakes.
So how does Yui compare to Watson? Assuming that Yui goes through the same process as Watson (information gathering, searching for solutions, ranking the solutions and presenting the best solution), Yui, having access to visuals for the whole games as seen in the anime, which makes less sense, since the visuals are themselves based from computer data, and hence would make more sense if Yui directly have the data which causes the changes in each player’s facial emotions (received from the players’ NerveGear), looks up on her vast library of symptoms and solutions, have multiple results and then returns and perform the result with the best outcome (based on data, which most likely would have been fine tuned from her experience from beta)
Yui and Cardinal
From the anime, Yui stated how she was unable to interact with the players despite the player’s apparent issues, all of which lead to her breaking down. There are two possibilities that lead to her not interacting with the player, either that she came to the conclusion that her not helping is the best solution or, the actual reason, that something is preventing her from interacting the players. That something is the Cardinal system (maybe a reference to the cardinal in Catholicism), a program that is in charge of all aspects of the game, including the player’s mental health, which clearly Yui is also responsible for. To explain in terms of a organization, Cardinal would be the CEO while Yui would be under him. Seeing that most of Cardinal’s tasks to be more back end related (changing the stats of the monsters, chances of item drops etc…), Cardinal seems to use Yui more as a front end for interaction with the players for mental health.
So how does Cardinal and Yui usually collaborate in terms of supporting the mental health of the players? From my discussion before, Yui have access to the player’s data that would result her to want to connect and help them. So does she have direct access to the data or it is regulated by the Cardinal system? If she have direct access, then what is the task of the Cardinal relating to mental health, since it seems that Yui is in charge of the whole consultation from start to finish (my only guess is that Cardinal might end up being responsible for mental issues that can be fixed by changing the back end stats). If she doesn’t have direct access, and is regulated by Cardinal, when instead of just preventing Yui from accessing the players in the game, why didn’t Cardinal just stop feeding information to Yui in the first place, or even better, stop Yui from running?
As someone that have no experience with game development, I have no idea of how Yui is being ran, but from her speech, I guess that she is running independently from the game, or is running in a way that would have minimal disruptions from the game, and hence Cardinal, the administrator in the game wasn’t able to stop her from running and therefore could only prevent her from interacting with the players, data within the game (again, why still allow her to observe the game is still a mystery).
Now as for her being broken, I’m leaning more on the possibility that because of her inability to consult the player resulted in her ‘learning’ that every solution that she had was not viable and hence stopped trying to interact the players. Just like Watson finds out that a certain answer to a certain question is incorrect and changes the possibilities around, Yui ended all question to the do nothing answer after endless failure.
Yui and her ‘parents’
As opposed to all of the other characters, Kirito and Asuna had joy and tranquility instead, something that was unique in the game according to Yui (which I do call bulls on, since we saw how some players other than the 2 play and enjoy the game), which pushed Yui to enter into the game and observe the two more. It might be precisely because those emotions were unique to the world that Yui was still able to respond to them (as only solutions to negative emotions were ‘corrected’). Now pushing her far enough to want to meet them in-game (did Cardinal allowed that or she went in another way), having them treat her as their daughter and wanting to be with them as she get erased (if my previous hypothesis is true, she doesn’t get erased by Cardinal, either by some program that does checks on the system that she resides in or manually by a human in real life), now that is interesting.
Yui was programmed to be a consulting program, and while she never got to do her part correctly (no fault of her), if she was only just a consulting program, it would have never decide to be close to Asuna and Kirito. You might say that she went out her ways to them because she want to fix all the incorrect data that she had (unbreak herself), but how does she even realize that she is broken in the first place? In order for her to realize that she is broken, she need to have some kind of comparison between her current (broken) state and a unbroken state (maybe the default data) to realize the differences. Even after finding the differences, how does she conclude that her current state is broken and not the other way around. We aren’t just talking about machine learning anymore, but machines with morality installed. I guess maybe Yui’s creator realized that the incident will happen and created this morality clause that would take over Yui’s learning abilities at times.
However, the last straw is her desire to stay with her ‘parents’ forever. It is all awwww and stuff, but heck, having a machine having a wish of her own that is not a direct result of the creator’s creation, O MY GOODNESS CALL THE SCIENTISTS. This, along with several other signs, shows that Yui at least have some kind of self awareness, and it even shows both in episode 12 and 11, where the revelation that she is an AI consultant would have shocked some because she was behaving like a real human the whole time, and not like a program out to consult the players.
Yui, the rogue program
At the very end, Yui did state that she went against Cardinal, so she either did have direct access to interact with the character (Cardinal actually didn’t have control over her accessing the players) but always consulted Cardinal before interacting the players or she found some backdoor and got around it. For both cases, it can be because she became self-aware or it is by creator’s intention that she acted that way (making Yui’s creator to be one heck of a rouge programmer within the company behind SAO). However, either way Yui is not functioning according to what the user, the SAO system, intended and hence is a rogue program, putting her next to malware and Trojan horses. How’s that for his little moe girl?
…and there really isn’t much (I want) to talk about Kirito hacking and getting her code back.