“Do you want to give me a name?”

“Yeah. From now on, your name is KARA.”

Artificial intelligence may seem to be something only found within fiction and movies, but in all reality, it is a part of science diligently researched and worked upon. We may not see it now, in ten years, or even 50; but at some point in the future, AI may become a significant part of our everyday lives.

It might be fate, or even just irony, that I stumbled upon this vision from game developer Quantic Dream (widely recognized for its innovative game Heavy Rain) recently. As this past weekend I worked my way through both Portal 2 (speaking of AI…) and replayed Heavy Rain, seeing and experiencing KARA couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.

In a 7 minute long video running in real time on the Playstation 3, KARA maintains Quantic Dream’s vision of implementing true emotion into a gaming experience.  It is not done through dazzling story elements or breathtaking action sequences, it is simply raw unparalleled emotion and feeling.

This stand alone piece shows a machine becoming conscious and self-aware for the first time; the moment she is brought to life, undergoing assembly and a series of brief initiation tests.  She introduces her serial number, goes through her various functions of taking appointments, watching the kids, cleaning the house (among others) and she even speaks over 300 languages which is then demonstrated through both speech and song. When she asks to be given a name, the programmer behind the camera calls her KARA…and she repeats her name with a sense of pride. Other tests go by as she is assembled together and she passes them all easily. However, when it is explained that she is to be sold as merchandise, that she is merely an expensive computer with legs, she does not simply acknowledge this information – she is hurt by it.

“I thought…”

“You thought? What did you think?”

“I thought, that I was alive.”

At this the programmer considers her defective and to be disassembled immediately. As the machine begins undoing her piece by piece, KARA begs and pleads for the programmer to stop, to please not disassemble her, and that she promises to be good and do everything she is told. The machine continues on as her mechanical heart beats faster and faster.

“Stop! Will you please stop?”

“…I’m scared!”

…the entire room ceases all motion. Time stands still.

“Please, I’m begging you. I want to live!”

It is an experience designed to capture the moments of a machine becoming human.  KARA first awakens to her mechanical role but within a brief 5-6 minutes begins showing human like emotions from happiness to fear to sadness to respect. Quantic Dream wished to create a semblance of emotion not only through the actions and effects of KARA but also to impact those viewing the film. Unlike their work in Heavy Rain, KARA was filmed using 65 motion capture cameras within a sound proof studio in order to film performance and voice within one take simultaneously.

Even years after its release, people may still be surprised at what can be accomplished with the PS3s engine and capabilities. As technology continues to advance, so too does the gaming industry. KARA may not be a game, but it is still an experience worth having. With stunning visuals and emotional performance, KARA transcends a realm between science fiction and reality. In its own way, it stands to teach everyone a small yet valuable lesson. Perhaps humanity is something we all take for granted, and it is within those that are not human in which we can truly find realization in our faults.

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