Explaining my stance on Incarnation
The other day, in the context of last week’s reader responses, I debated at length with my girlfriend about the merits and demerits of Sword Art Online Alicization. Specifically the Incarnation system. And it really allowed me to give it some thought – why I don’t take issue with what could be construed as poor writing that’s all too convenient. For a rationalist, I can understand the aversion to Incarnation. As a concept, it defies set rules and conventions. There’s no real world equivalent of human willpower and imagination directly influencing or affecting the way in which established computer coding or rules operate. Let alone outright breaking them. However, I’ll confess to never being much of a rationalist/objectivist/etc. Though I like to think myself of being a pragmatic hedonist, truthfully, I’m a hopeless romanticist at heart. Even though there are reasons to lament, I remain steadfast in my belief towards humanity. Especially the human condition – and our capacity to continually achieve progress and break through boundaries.
If we’re accepting the premise of Alicization, that human souls can be translated to a virtual plane, and vice versa for artificial intelligence that have gained sentience, then what’s so far-fetched about abilities and powers embedded into a virtual world, that’s intended to be wielded through willpower and imagination? If humans can have lucid dreams and do anything in said lucid dreams – conditionally based upon the strength of their willpower and imagination – then what’s the issue with being able to lucid dream in a game setting that’s designed to let you do so? Sure, they could have explained it better. But I don’t have any issues giving A-1 Pictures a pass here and don’t necessarily think they’ve done a poor job, since they worked to heavily imply the underlying mechanics of Incarnation throughout Alicization’s run – and the point of Incarnation is that it’s an esoteric concept which is not well understood by inhabitants or Rath scientists. Additionally, for anyone’s that’s seen Accel World and knows that it’s set in the same universe as Sword Art Online (only a few decades later), it’s pretty clear that Incarnation is the precursor to Brain Burst. So it’s logically consistent as far as the Kawaharaverse is concerned.
Implications of Artificial Intelligence with Sentience
No matter, I’ve digressed from actually discussing about this episode – which served as an excellent way to wind down from the explosive climax that preceded it, giving viewers a chance to have our cathartic moment. People can criticise Kawahara all they like – myself included. I certainly raised my eyebrow when a not so robot looking robot that looked exactly like Underworld Alice walked onto the stage. But I really admire the themes and discussions he’s conceptualised through the course of writing Sword Art Online. And it’s very obvious so much thought has gone into them when it comes to Alicization’s questions about how a human soul can be defined (Tamashi no iro wa?) as well as this episode’s approach to the ethical discussion surrounding AI. It will be a slow and gradual process, as Kikuoka points out. And it’s out of their control to protect the Underworldians – since they’re so dependent on humans. And the reporters at the press conference definitely had a sinister and corporate bend to their questions. But I like to think that humanity is better than that. Not to mention robo Kayaba and 200 Year Kirito’s fluctlight can combine for an unexpected yet highly anticipated crossover to defend the virtual planes from real world interests that threaten it. So I guess that’s what the next arc of Sword Art Online will be about – which will set us up nicely for a future season.
Finally, it hurt so good when Kirito returned home and collapsed onto his bed sobbing – grieving heavily for Eugeo. Thinking about it, since he’s had 200 years of memories wiped, Eugeo literally died 1-2 weeks ago. I’m not surprised that his grief is so fresh – particularly if we consider his guilt. I’ll never forget the way I broke down crying when my classmate died a few years ago – let alone a best friend who Kirito had life and death adventures with across 3 years. And when we’ve had similar moments like Sachi and the Black Cats, Yuuki and the Sleeping Knights, we have to take our hats off to Reki Kawahara and recognise his talent for writing such meaningful and emotionally impacting characters, as well as the relatable ways in which his protagonists handle loss. It’s easily the thing I respect the most about his writing abilities that truly makes him stand out as special, and I hope we get to see more of it in future arcs of Sword Art Online.
Anyway, that’s about everything I wanted to discuss. As always, thanks for reading this post and see you next week to find out the meaning behind Alice’s foreboding words and why Rinko gives Kirito a call the following morning.