Project Alicization is one of the most confusing parts of Sword Art Online’s most recent arc. Here’s a simple explanation of the fascinating concept.
There are many ways to describe Sword Art Online, but the word ‘simple’ is not one of them. The popular anime can get confusing, especially when diving into the inner workings of its world. Nothing proves this more than Project Alicization, the focal point of the series’ Alicization arc. For those seeking an explanation of SAO‘s most recent storyline without getting a headache, here is a simple description of Project Alicization.
Project Alicization is a top-secret AI project run by Rath, a shadowy company with ties to the Japanese government. Led by Seijirou Kikuoka, Rath aims to create weapons that put Japan at the forefront of world warfare. However, after the end of the Cold War, people started to dislike the human costs of war, bringing about the development of unmanned weapons powered by artificial intelligence.
While working for Rath, Takeru Higa developed a device called the STL, or Soul Translator. The STL can detect the Fluctlight, effectively Sword Art Online‘s version of a soul. When people are born, they have a special light inside them that fluctuates uniquely. As people grow and gain memories, this light also grows and creates the Fluctlight — it’s the “soul” that the STL can detect, read and scan.
Rath also made the Light Quantum Gate Crystal, or Lightcube, a powerful supercomputer to store the data gathered by the STL. The STL’s mainframe is made up of thousands of Lightcubes. There are six STLs in existence: two are at Rath’s main office in Roppongi, while the other four are on board the Ocean Turtle, a massive floating seabase that Rath bought from the Japanese government.
The employees at Rath aimed to use this technology to clone Fluctlights and create a bottom-up AI, with a mental structure identical to the human consciousness. In other words, an AI that learns and grows just like a human. This is the opposite of real-world AI, which must be programmed and taught how to learn. Rath first attempted to clone Fluctlights from fully-grown humans, but the process always failed as they would realize they were clones — not original people — and then self-destruct. Rath tried to remedy this by cloning the Fluctlights of newborns, presuming because they didn’t yet have memories, they couldn’t realize they were clones. These blank, personality-free Fluctlights were dubbed Soul Archetypes.
However, these Fluctlights needed a place to learn in order to grow into full AI. So Rath created the Underworld, a virtual space where the Fluctlights could live. This world was made to resemble a pseudo-historical setting in an attempt to prevent the AI from realizing they were clones.
Now, creating a virtual world of such depth would be extremely difficult, even in Sword Art Online. So to get around this, Rath used a program called The Seed to create the Underworld. They then converted this world into the data format the Fluctlights use, setting it up alongside their own personal data to simulate the environment. This means the Underworld is made up of memories, almost like a lucid dream or shared hallucination.
16 AIs were sent into the Underworld, but as they were newborns and couldn’t raise each other, four Rath employees were sent to act as the AIs’ parents. These employees and the Underworld itself raised the AIs by following a strict series of rules and laws referred to as the Taboo Index. Using the Fluctlight Acceleration function of the STL, the Underworld could go through 18 years in just one week. At this point, with the AIs in their adolescent state, the employees logged out of the Underworld. To explain this sudden change, the AIs were told that a plague had killed their parents, and from that point would continue to learn and grow on their own.
While Sword Art Online’s Alicization arc is complicated and mind-bending, it is a really creative concept. The idea of creating an AI that functions like human consciousness is fascinating, but it also raises interesting philosophical questions. Credit must be given to Sword Art Online’s writers, as they could have gotten away with simply not explaining the process and treating it like magic. However, they went the extra mile to create a detailed backstory, making the popular arc even more gripping.
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