Dedicated to Tim Burton.
Year 2113, Toyosu, Koto-Ku, Tokyo.
The town of Toyosu 100 years in the future has changed from one teeming with new families and children to becoming the final resting stop of the elderly.
Due to the ever graver low birth rate, employment such as nursing, child raising and housework has become the role of humanoid robots devoid of emotion. As these emotion-less robots become ever more common, people are forgetting how to love each other.
Just what is this vital emotion “love” that connects our DNA?
Year2113, Toyosu, Koto-Ku, Tokyo,
How much time has passed since I was admitted to this hospital?
I’ve become so old that I can’t even remember this. Several years ago, I received a present from the Hospital Director to celebrate long life, which consisted of a red and white sweet bun, a certificate of achievement and money in an envelope, although I can’t recall how much. So I must have been alive quite some time.
Although it may sound very emotionally detached, in my current frame of mind, the questions of how long I have left to live or how much I have lived until now are of little consequence to me.
It is not that I am unhappy. In my youth, I was a lively child and in fact somewhat mischievous. I had an elder sister who my parents disciplined strictly, but compared to her, I was generally left to my own devices when growing up. Despite that, I always felt the warmth of their affection and was brought up surrounded by a great deal of love, and so when I reached adulthood, I was loved by everyone. I was happily married and had children.
Those children grew up and had their own children, and those children in turn had their own children, so by any standard, you could say that I had a large family. Elderly people like myself are not rare at all in Toyosu. In fact it is full of people living to a ripe old age.
This is evidenced by the fact that when I received the certificate of achievement at a certain age, there were others in the same boat as me, and it was not as if I made news headlines simply by myself.
In fact I was just one of many mentioned in the news, stating “There are __tens of thousands of new 100 year olds”.
This is the age we are living in. Young people and small children are treated like endangered animals. It is a world in which almost no children are being born. But it is also an age in which if you want children you can have however many as you like and at whatever age.
Medicine has progressed thus far, but people are losing the will to have children.
It seems that young people do not even understand what love is. Being simply crazy about a person, being unable to get that person out of your mind, whether awake or asleep, being reduced to a mute simply by being in their presence and unable to behave correctly, that profound sadness, that emotion.
Some researchers in this field believe it to be because human DNA has changed.
Love is required to breed life. The necessary emotions for breeding and the accompanying physical changes are disappearing from our DNA.
This may be so. Come to think of it, the fact that even my grandchildren have had grandchildren may be a kind of miracle. It seems, in fact, that my grandchildren had children not for any reasons of love but based on more self-serving emotions. If they had children of their own, it was possible to live here in Toyosu, which had a device for removing radiation. Work was flexible and Toyosu was, in actuality, a very convenient island and a place where everyone would like to live at least once. For that reason, it seems there are cases of men and women with shared interests having children for the express goal of living on Toyosu island.
It’s just like a marriage of convenience for visa reasons isn’t it?
It really has become a deplorable world we live in.
Talking of love, I remember the first time I really fell for someone. That was when I was still only two years old. My mother failed to get along with the other mothers in my older sister’s case, and so when it came to me thought “I can’t do this on my own”, and I was placed in an educational facility that could accept kids from the age of two.
The person I met at that time was the class teacher. I fell in love with the teacher at first sight. She had a full figure, rosy cheeks and a fresh smile as if flowers had just burst into bloom. She was like an angel.
I remember that I tried to appeal to her in various ways so that she would recognize my efforts, and constantly harangued my forgetful mother.
It became my daily task to check things such as schedules for replacement holidays, changes in times for things I was learning out of school, so that I wouldn’t forget to submit necessary items. I threw myself into this task not because I did not want my mother to be put at a disadvantage but more because I wanted to communicate even just a small amount with my teacher.
My class teacher was changed the last year of kindergarten and I lost nearly all contact with this teacher. After graduating kindergarten, I only had the opportunity to meet her at whole-year ceremonies. As time went on, my mother got fed up of going to these ceremonies and I lost touch completely with the teacher.
Rumor had it that she found a husband, had a child and lived happily ever after.
It is already 100 years ago, but even now, I can still recall as if it was yesterday that teacher smiling and saying “Ryoma”in a gentle voice. According to my mother, as soon as I could speak, I said “I am going to marry my teacher” but I am sure I never said that to another person, including my mother, even once.
“I’m going to marry my teacher”
It is said that the first person young boys want to marry is their mother, but that never happened to me.
Maybe it did.
There is a reason why I have been recalling this so often recently. In fact, it seems more real to me now that it did in the past. This may be the time that dementia and senility usually start kicking in, but it doesn’t seem that way to me at all.
The reason is that I fell in love with this teacher again.
Saying that, it’s not as if the teacher is here right in front of me.
The teacher I was so fond of must have departed this world by now. She was 20 years older than me, so if she was alive she would certainly be in the news by now.
Reaching this age, though, it occurs to me that the age difference between the teacher and I was only 20 years. Now I am 104 years old, so if my teacher were still living she would be 124, which is not so much of a difference don’t you think?
When I reached the age of 18, I should have looked for my teacher and if she were still single, proposed to her. I thought so, but why didn’t I do it? If there is something I regret in my life, it is this.
Put another way, it has been a happy life with little regret.
And just when I expected to quietly see out my days accompanied only by these feelings a miracle happened.
My teacher appeared again before my eyes.
The teacher would come to my bed at the hospital when I woke every morning to say.
“Good morning, Ryoma, you are looking well today”
At this my mood brightened considerably, my face broke into a grin and a feeling of excitement warmed my heart.
“Good morning Miss”
I felt just the same way as I had when I was small, at the tender age of two. I thought it had been long forgotten, but it was still clear in my mind. It was not as if I was trying to recall it. I remembered my teacher because these feelings came flooding back.
It was the same feeling as back then.
The teacher’s name was different now to what it had been back then. Her name now was “M4KD”. The doctors and nurses at the hospital called her “Angel”, but I called her “Miss”.
That’s right. You may have got some inkling from the name, but my teacher is a state-of-the-art nursing humanoid robot. Her name is most certainly
This is a humanoid robot dedicated to nursing. It seems it was developed for elderly people who do not have relatives to care for them. Recent developments in science and technology have been breathtaking. No-one would realize it was a robot unless they had been told.
The other day, Kyota, who had been at the same kindergarten as me, came to visit me in my hospital room, and was very surprised to see the teacher. Although my friendship with Kyota suffered temporarily, due to the friction between our mothers and the fact that we were in a different school district, we both joined the same high school and university and became friends again.
Kyota was fond of the teacher as well and said bitterly “Oh..I wish I’d done that”, but the manufacturing of two robots based on the same person is prohibited by law, and this teacher robot was just for me. Kyota was admitted to the same hospital. We were both here just waiting to die.
The teacher robot, or I should say Miss M4, was identical to the real teacher, except in one aspect. That is to say, the robot is not programmed with the emotions of anger or sadness. So there are no angry outbursts or tears. What is more, it never argues with what the user says. It only talks in the positive.
Even if you say something funny, something sad, something to deliberately provoke an angry reaction, you will still be received with the same smile and answered with the same agreeable responses. So, when I speak to the teacher, I become calm and relaxed, and my negative emotions all disappear.
If I say something selfish, she kindly says “Hmmm..I wonder?”. This is the only negative thing she will say.
Now and again, she says “Just today?” as she brings me ice cream, which is forbidden by the hospital. Of course, in my head I understand that the program is provided so as not to put any stress on the patient’s condition, but to me it just seems as if the real teacher is just treating me in a special way.
I was happy.
A little while back, I felt lonely about being hospitalized on my own, and I acted very selfishly and caused my son and daughter a lot of problems. But now I could care less whether anybody visited me or not.
If somebody comes to visit, the way the teacher, I mean the robot, is programmed causes her to be considerate and leave the room. As I can’t stand this, I have even told people not to come unless there is anything important.
I feel embarrassed to say this, but it is painful for me to be separated from the teacher for even the shortest periods. One day, during the honeymoon period, my family, the whole bunch of them, descended upon me without warning.
Rather than being happy, I just felt anxious.
My son and daughter, their children and grandchildren all came together. I had a hunch what this was all about. That’s right. They wanted to discuss my estate.
It was not really an estate that was of a divisible size. When Toyosu island was first formed, I bought a condominium on the island. Straight after I bought it, Toyosu island became the property of the government, and all condominiums built after that point became nationalized, and it became a town in which young families with children had first priority. The government then loaned them to families with children under 13 years old at a cheap rate.
Young people wanting to enter that accommodation had children for that purpose. Even if the reasoning was purely selfish, this seemed to be effective in putting the brakes on the decreasing population and the number of children began to increase slightly.
For that reason, having the rights to one of the very few privately owned condominiums on Toyosu Island, I knew that this was the subject of dissension between my relatives. Only the privately owned condominiums could be leased out to anyone, so wealthy people without children who want to live on Toyosu island were prepared to spend an exorbitant amount of money to loan out these properties.
Hydie, who was a descendant of the charismatic rock singer hyde from 100 years ago, leased it out previously. She paid 100 times the lease fee described here. I actually wanted to sell it to here, but this was prohibited by law.
It is possible to leave it to your descendants sharing your own DNA, but sale is forbidden. If you want to sell it, you have to sell it to the government. Rather than sell it at a knockdown price to the state, I would prefer to leave it to any descendants I had. However, this also became the cause of acrimony between my relatives.
In any world, owning property can be the source of quarrels.
I sometimes moan about this to the M4 robot, but she just answers with a smile,
“That’s not such a big deal. As long as everyone is healthy, that is good enough”
, and I calm down realizing the wisdom in what she says.
That was when the whole tribe descended and it dawned on me. I doubt my life would go on much longer. So, they were all anxious about what would happen to the Toyosu condominium after mu death and to whom I would leave the rights. That’s what they were all here to discuss.
As expected, the conversation centered on what would happen to the Toyosu condominium and estate in case the worst happened. I remembered that I had entrusted the drafting of the will to a legal adviser and that was that. I hadn’t decided yet what to do, and, knowing that whatever will I settled on would not satisfy all of the children, I always procrastinated.
When I spoke about this to the teacher she smiled and said
“Right. You should do with it as you please”
Just that, and it was enough to satisfy me.
My large family was huddled inside my small hospital room. They all pretended to be concerned about my health, but were obsessed with the Toyosu condominium. I was overwhelmed by a sense of depression.
“I don’t feel well today, so can you leave?”
I said, acting as though my chest really hurt. My family came to their senses at this and left saying “get well soon”.
I was alone again. No, the teacher was there as well. I didn’t want anyone else to come to the room. The nurses just pestered me about whether I had taken my meds, the doctors just peered down at me with imperious faces, my family were only worried about the Toyosu condominium and my old classmate and acquaintances just drooled over the teacher.
It was all one big unpleasant experience.
“Miss, I guess we may not be together much longer. Didn’t you say before that you might leave before me? You said that after 4 years had passed, I might get a new robot. It could happen any time, right?”
My teacher listened to me without speaking. I carried on speaking, as usual, saying everything that I was uneasy about.
“I want to die before that happens. I don’t want a new robot. If I have to separate from you, I don’t want to go living. Really…”
Usually she would respond kindly, saying “Don’t say such things. I’ll always be with you”. After all, that was what she was programmed to say.
But she said
“Ryoma! What are you talking about? You can still live for many more years? I’ll really get mad if you talk that way?”
Flabbergasted, I looked at the teacher’s face. She was angry. Miss M4 before me, that is to say the robot, had an expression of annoyance.
Not only that, but she also speaking in a negative way.
But・・・come to think of it, when I was mischievous, my kindergarten teacher would sometimes have that face when she got angry. Before me now, though, was a robot. The robot was not programmed to have emotions of anger or sadness or to be able to say negative things.
I was really confused.
What’s the matter? Miss, don’t get annoyed, I would just hate that. Miss..
But instead, what came out of my mouth was an apology.
“Miss, I’m sorry. I won’t say it anymore”
When I answered the teacher in this way, I was not the elderly man who had lived so long he had received a commendation. It was the child version of myself who had only just been born and was just learning to put two words together.
That’s right. The one who answered was the two year old me, who had spent time with the teacher in the kindergarten facility when it was newly opened in Toyosu 100 years before.
On hearing this, the angry expression departed from the face of Miss M4 immediately. And then for an instant it was replaced with a charming smile that reminded one of roses blooming.
It then returned to the same tranquil smile.
I had completely forgotten that I had ever answered “But I….”like this in a flustered way. That was an expression of anger and then after that a pleased smile, as if she actually had emotions. No, my eyes must be playing tricks on me.
After that, we just returned to our everyday selves.
One day, when this event had already been completely forgotten, Miss M4 abruptly said
“There’s something I need to do. I’ll be gone for a while. Will you be alright?”
I was taken aback.
Miss M4 came to me and told me that the 4 years were nearly coming to an end. Once 4 years had passed, she would be dismantled and after cleaning and inspection, she would be programmed into something new. This was a new law that was determined around the time that robots started to become deeply involved in people’s lives.
I was to part now from the teacher standing in front of me.
Re-programming after dismantlement and cleaning. That was the same thing as a human being going into that world and being reborn. Well I thought so anyway.
Of course, as it was a robot, the same thing would come back. Or would it? I always thought it wasn’t quite the same. Robots were reborn and came back. The robot in front of me right now would be reborn. In that case, it was the same thing as death wasn’t it?
What is more, the components from other robots may infiltrate my robot, and if it was judged that a critical problem had been found, it would be scrapped. Then a completely new robot would be programmed in the same way and thrust before my eyes.
The teacher’s expression was completely unmoved. It was the same kind of expression as if she had said something like “I’m just off to the kiosk to do a bit of shopping”.
After stressing over this for a while, I answered.
“Yeah. I’ll be alright. But can we go sleepy-byes together tonight?”
What am I talking about? Abruptly, I blushed the color of scarlet. What is worse is I said sleepy-byes like a kindergartener. On hearing this, the teacher grinned and responded with a smile.
“Well..just for tonight”
This answer was the same as when answering to coax me, saying that she wanted to eat ice cream behind the back of the nurse stalking the corridor on her rounds.
Recently, I was not sure whether Miss M4 was a robot or a real teacher. These days, she not only nursed me and listened to what I said, but she had started speaking to me. So sometimes, in order that I wouldn’t forget that Miss M4 was a robot, I muttered to myself.
“She is a robot. That’s right. Miss M4 is a robot”
Dinner was over and the time for lights out approached. I grew restless. Today, the teacher said she would go sleepy-byes with me. But would she really? She is a robot so should follow orders religiously, but was she actually programmed to respond to such a request? I was concerned. Maybe, she would just say
“OK. Good night. Sweet dreams”
as usual and return to the robot station within the hospital as usual. There was a room in the hospital housing the robots and it seems that their energy was charged and they received maintenance here.
I didn’t know whether Miss M4 knew what I was feeling or not but she just pottered around my bed, helping me as usual. Laying out my food, clearing up, checking the temperature and humidity room, and sorting out my futon, she said
“OK, Ryoma, it’s time to go to bed now”
I laid down on my bed. Things being normal, the teacher would then turn out the light and leave the room, but today was different. Miss M4 laid down and squeezed into the bed with me.
I was both happy and excited, my face went red and I may have been grinning. When I was in kindergarten and looked at the teacher I would always have this kind of expression. My mother would tease me about it, and the teacher would laugh when she looked at me.
Miss M4 laid down beside me, covered me with the futon and looked straight up to the ceiling. She then turned her head towards me and said
“Thank you Ryoma. Thank you for always looking after me”
She was somehow different today. I heard a sound like the gentle groaning of an engine. Then large tears rolled out of her eyes.
No, no, no・・・・
“Miss, it is me who should say thank you. Thank you for always being so kind to me. I love you miss. I always did love you・・・”
“I love you too”
Saying this, Miss M4 took my hand. It was the touch of artificial skin, but it was regulated to be the same temperature as a human hand, and was warm.
There was nothing left for me to say. The teacher I had been fond of for so long. The kind teacher. Everyone’s teacher, yet now just my teacher. Is it possible to be so happy?
Just as my life was coming to an end, my wish had finally come true.
The teacher and I just lay there in a line next to each other, just turning our heads towards each other, then held each other’s hands and wept tears.
It may have been because my feelings had reached such a peak, but as a reaction I then started to drop off to sleep. This may have been because the teacher’s palms were so warm.
“Warm palms are a sign of sleepiness”
my mother often said to me as she gripped my warm palms as my eyes were drooping.
Mum, Miss M4, I’m sleepy・・・Miss, thank you...
You are just my angel...
From somewhere, one can make out the sound of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony “Pastorale” playing.
At the hospice at Toyosu General Hospital, they play the favorite songs of the patients hospitalized there in lieu of a wake-up call.
Ryoma Morio, who was staying in this hospital room, chose this song. It is said to have been a favorite song of both himself and his sister. He had no use for it anymore, so the setting should have cancelled but we forgot to do it.
The sister in question is an outpatient at this hospital. Was it his sister? Someone who looked like one of his grandchildren often came to visit him when coming to the hospital. I often saw them on these consultation days. They both lived long lives and were really close siblings.
I looked after Ryoma Morio in my role as nurse at this hospital.
He died this morning. As the morning music was playing, I looked into his room, as usual, before the piece came to an end, but he was still not up.
I thought this somewhat strange as his morning ritual was to wake up as soon as this piece started to play and drink the tea poured by his nursing robot. When I went to look at him, he was already cold.
I rushed to call the doctor but his heart and lungs had already stopped. This had apparently happened in the middle of the night. Just as in the expression of “going to sleep”, his face at time of death was calm and smiling, as if asleep. Did something make him cry? He didn’t seem to be in pain, so I guess that water just leaked from his tear ducts after he died. This is often the way.
I called his relatives and gave them the news of his departing, and then took him to the mortuary to take care of the body.
Do I appear too nonchalant about this? Well, it is my job after all.
Although I feel sorry for the relatives of the deceased, this is the way it is for hospitals and nurses. It was always the same, so I just did it in the same way. Everything was just the same as normal.
However,in the case of Ryoma Morio there was something a little different. He had laid the nursing robot next to him and it had, so to speak, breathed its last breath. There they were lying down, as if they were standing up straight, just the two of them, that is to say Ryoma Morio and his robot, holding hands with only their heads facing one another.
Then there were Ryoma’s tearstains. These are often found on the deceased but there was also moisture coming from the robot’s eyes. First I thought it might be oil leaking out but when I wiped it, it was smooth and didn’t seem to be oil at all. Had he spilled some water?
I then asked someone from his family to move the nursing robot but it seems that exactly 4 years had passed and a representative had come from the service center and taken it somewhere. It was an amazing coincidence, but the day that the patient died was also exactly the last day of the robot’s life.
“Although I feel bad about saying it, this was the best thing for Grandad. He was always anxious about when the robot was going to be replaced.”
The other day, his family were concerned and stopped by to talk about the exchange of his robot, but apparently all he wanted to talk about was the Toyosu island condominium and, while he was worried about the robot, he did not seem to want to talk about it. Perhaps he just didn’t want to hear it.
Ryoma Morio had entered the hospice, so in order to alleviate his suffering, a Type-Angel had been assigned. Angel of course is the angel in “Angel Care”. This is an unfortunate name, but Angel is a state-of-the-art humanoid robot customized according to the patient’s wishes. Ryoma Morio wanted it to be like his first love. It often is the way.
The Toyosu condominium? There are absolutely no privately-owned condominiums on Toyosu island. They are all in state hands. Despite the fact that his family had explained this again and again, he still claimed that he had property there. He was getting on a bit, so there were many things that he could not understand or perhaps didn’t want to understand.
Sorry, the next patient to be admitted is waiting so I need to go now.
Hang on…there’s something left in his secured chest. Are these things that Ryoma Morio left behind? It’s some kind of old picture. Yes..it’s his wedding photo. It’s a picture of Ryoma Morio from 2027.
Wow...his wife is a dead ringer for his nursing robot Angel, isn’t she?
When Ryoma Morio customized the robot, it was not his first love he was looking for but his wife. It seems he really loved her. That’s the way that I want to be if I get married. But will I ever meet such a person.
At the end of the day, what is this thing we call “love”?
Recently, progress in the robotics industry appears to be accelerating at breakneck speed.
This is not limited to industry, and at the same time there is significant awareness of the need to create robots that will get close to humans, for the purposes of nursing, medicine and the like. Just recently, a robot with emotions, PEPPER, was released by Softbank, to the world’s amazement.
I think it was fall of last year when I wrote this novel.
When I wrote it, I expected that it would be about 100 years before such a robot would appear, and I had no idea things would change so quickly. This story is not limited to my fancy or imagination, and the day when it will become a reality is surely drawing near.
I think that science must progress on the backs of the dreams and hopes of human beings.
Furthermore, I pray that all of the children throughout the world will continue to look towards a bright future.
Yuriko Morio 2014.06.16