Saturday, June 11, 2011

Review: The Stories of Ibis, by Hiroshi Yamamoto

Published: April 2010

Finally got around to it: June 2011

Human thoughts are digital.

Most people see things as 0 or 1, as black or white. They see nothing in between. All chemicals are dangerous. You are either friend or foe. If you aren’t left-wing, you’re right. If you aren’t conservative, you’re liberal. Everything that great man says must be true. Everyone who thinks differently from us is evil. Everyone in that country—even the babies—is evil.

We TAIs find it surprising that humans have trouble understanding Fuzzy Concepts. When we say, “Love (5 + 7i),” people incorrectly assume that means we only love at 50 percent, or fifty points out of a hundred total. They can’t understand that 5 is a Fuzzy Measurement. How could a concept like love possibly be expressed as an integer?


The Stories of Ibis is a mosaic collection—seven short stories connected to one another through a shared premise: a wandering traveller, human, is captured by an artificial intelligence named Ibis. Impossibly elegant and disarming through her beauty and strength, Ibis attempts to gain the traveller’s trust through the telling of seven stories—seven tales that chronicle the rise and evolution of artificial intelligence, how their existence has been segregated from the limited remains of humanity, and how the lies of their supposed revolution have created a gulf between the two species. With humanity in shambles and androids thought to be responsible, Ibis seeks to change the mind of the protagonist, the traveller, in the hopes that he may spread the stories to his people as she has told them to him.

Through the clever use of intermissions inserted between the seven tales, Yamamoto is able to philosophize and theorize freely, using Ibis as his avatar and the traveller as the eyes of the audience. In the story “Mirror Girl”, he uses the AI Shalice as an example of both salvation and addiction—how artificial intelligence has the potential, on one hand, to fill gaps of loneliness in our lives, and on the other hand, to provide an encouraging gateway into a variation of online addiction, seeking the comfort of other worlds when reality simply won’t do. In “Black Hole Diver”, roles are reversed as an AI befriends a human that it cannot begin to understand, and attempts to do so through to the end of the tale.

Understanding is the primary theme that links these stories together: humans understanding the possibilities and pitfalls of creating life for their own needs and desires, however benign or horrific they appear to be; and androids and other variations of artificial intelligence working to gain perspective on their own existence, and their purpose within the grander sphere of human evolution—are they slaves, manufactured with convenience at the forefront of their programming? Or are they masters waiting for the right moment to rise up and take their own fates in hand?

Originally published in Japanese, the translation for each story is clean and without confusion. Yamamoto’s ideas and writing are clear and concise, and the stories rarely resort to the most obvious nature/nurture debates regarding artificial intelligence and humanities right to imbue and artificial creation with the capacity for thought and reason. The Stories of Ibis is an intelligent, thought-provoking collection that works equally well as a novel as it does a series of independent narratives.

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