Computer Kakumei: Saikyō x Saisoku no Zunō Tanjō (OVA)

July 13, 2012

Augmented Reality ~ a portable computing device accesses a layer of information that is super-imposed on reality.

Computer Kakumei: Saikyō x Saisoku no Zunō Tanjō is an OVA that by no means provides a complete story. Instead it is intended to help viewers imagine the impact that computing technology will have in the near future. Computer Kakumei was broadcast by NHK in June of 2012, and this is one of their overtly educational efforts. The short was animated by Production I.G., so even though it clearly had a limited budget, it is pretty competently done. In some ways the art style is shoujo-esque.

Computer Kakumei can’t really be evaluated on the basis of story or character, and it is only 10 minutes long, but it is interesting for what it sets out to do, which is to get the viewer thinking about the impact that technology will have on human lives in the near future.

Notice that the boy on the left is looking through a tablet shaped pane of glass. Less obvious is that the boy on the right (and the dark-haired girl) are both looking through panes of glass.

One future technology that is prominent in Computer Kakumei is Augmented Reality (AR). Truly AR is a current technology, although the show indicates that it will go from being a curiosity or novelty to being a part of everyday life. I discussed AR in detail previously when reviewing Dennou Coil. I think the depiction is spot on. Mapping a virtual layer of information to our coordinate space is already happening.

Facial recognition allows Augmented Reality overlays for humans as well.

Extending the AR idea to a virtual layer of information about people does have a problem, though. In the show, it seemed that the devices recognized people from an iris-scan, or perhaps it was just some sort of facial recognition program. That raises questions about privacy. Now the show is expressly trying to raise questions and get people to think, so a questionable use of technology like that is probably fine in this context. For clarification, I don’t disbelieve that it will be possible to do something like this from a technical point of view, but I think the social questions should throw some roadblocks in the way of actually widely distributing such a technology.

An avatar without a real body – having an Artificial Intelligence as a classmate.

The most controversial technological advancement is the presence of an Artificial Intelligence. In the show, which takes place in about ten years, this is by no means an everyday occurrence, but the road to the future is clear. Whether humans can ever create an AI like the ones we are used to seeing in movies and TV shows is still an open question. To its credit, Computer Kakumei raises the issue expressly to provoke discussions about the most likely impacts of such technology on the human experience: what do we (the humans) do after we have created ever more advanced machines to do our work for us?

Production I.G. did a good job with a limited budget.

This is the crux of the show. Is there something that we (humans) can do, that computers cannot? What will the children of the future need to do to be able to contribute something to society? Low-skilled labor is becoming less and less useful to society, and robotics is increasing the productive capabilities of those who remain in the labor pool. What happens to the others? Do they need to study advanced math and science just to get jobs? Is there a place for the average human worker in the economy of the future?

Computer Kakumei doesn’t really answer these questions, but they are appropriate questions to raise. Young people of today should be thinking about whether they can contribute meaningfully to society in the near future, because many jobs that were done by humans when I was younger have already been handed over to computers, and that trend won’t stop just because it is inconvenient to us humans. Even if the economics are capable of supporting the human population without our current need for human labor, will life be meaningful when we can’t contribute to the well-being of others in society? The main character in Computer Kakumei is still trying to find her answer.

4 Responses to “Computer Kakumei: Saikyō x Saisoku no Zunō Tanjō (OVA)”

  1. David A. Young Says:

    Of all the many problems we face today, I believe the single most serious one is the dysfunctionallity of much of our educational system (both K-12 and highter ed). This is bad because in the future the jobs that remain are going to be high-skilled, and we’re not preparing most of our students adequately for them. But a point you brought up highlights an even MORE troublesome aspect of this situation. What if most of the population doesn’t HAVE to work? A person of average intelligence, if equiped with a high quality, well rounded education, will have a much better chance of finding creative and fulfilling things of interest to do with their time than will the mal-educated, barely literate victims too many of our schools are presently churning out. If you don’t have useful work to do, AND don’t know how to entertain and stiumulate yourself intellectually — well, THAT’s a recipe for disaster.

    • Joojoobees Says:

      I completely agree with you on both counts. I have a nephew and three nieces that are in grade school and I tell them to take their educations seriously, and don’t be afraid of Math and Science, because they will be able to make use of them in the future. As to finding meaning in life — that is a tough puzzle for any age, but it will be even more challenging if society’s needs are fulfilled by hyper-productive automated labor. I’m almost glad I won’t live to see it. There are worse things than death, and continuing to exist without having any real purpose, or anything to look forward to is a horrific thought.

      • David A. Young Says:

        Yes, more challenging, but I want to emphasize that I don’t think a world without “work” would NECESSARILY be a bad thing. There was a two year period in my life when I wasn’t “employed,” but had enough resources to DO things. I was never bored. There are so many books I haven’t read, so many movies and plays I haven’t seen, so many places I haven’t been, interesting people I haven’t met, so many fascinating fields of knowledge that I’ve never even touched upon. But to find that kind of “lifestyle” rewarding requires people to have a pool of knowledge to call upon already and, most importantly, a love of learning and a knowledge of “how to” learn. An “informed curiosity.” That is where our educational “system” is failing most miserably. We’re feeding our children intellectual pablum, when we need to be giving them hard bones to chew on to sharpen their mental teeth. A world where people are free to pursue thier own interests wherever they lead COULD be a marvelous place. But yes, without the right skills and attitudes, a world of such “freedom” could be a nightmare. However things turn out in the end…it’s gonna be a bumpy road.

      • Joojoobees Says:

        I agree with you that having the time to pursue interests can be a good thing, and I agree with you that to take advantage of that free time, an individual would need various skills, that you aptly described above.

        I do want to stress, however, that your example contains an important qualification — the time off was temporary. Working for a while, then taking a year or two off to pursue any personal interest can be rewarding, if one can then rejoin the workforce. This is because (for good or ill) the primary way that people are allowed to contribute to society is through “work”. There are other methods, especially for women, raising children is considered a valid alternative, but for the most part reading a book, or learning to paint, or play the piano, don’t directly contribute to society. For short periods of time, these pursuits have value in themselves as entertainment. However, if one doesn’t have a way to also contribute to society, just about any activity can eventually lose its meaning.

        I’m not trying to denigrate these “non-work” activities; I just mean that there is a difference between taking a break, and looking ahead to an entire lifetime of idleness.

        I read an article recently where the authors called for a reduction of work hours as a way to redistribute work in the face of productivity gains. Essentially give everyone three day weekends, so more people could participate in the workforce. I don’t know if that would work, because people are pretty resistant to change.

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