Saturday, August 22, 2020

SF8: Manxin


I really liked this episode. And Lee Donghwi starring it it has absolutely nothing to do with it. I am a professional.

A professional fangirl, to be precise.

The whole story centers around some rather simple premise - AI technology takes over people's lives. But here, the AI takes the form of an app that quickly loses its identity as the mere app, but is rather treated like an all-knowing oracle. After all, its name, Manxin, means Ten Thousands Spirits/Gods, which has direct ties to Korean shamanism.


The early version of Manxin was developed few years ago, but its accuracy with predicting the future was never above 20%. The creator sold his rights to the app to the company called Precon (although never stated openly, I suspect it's an abbreviation for precognition?) and since then, the app's rate of accuracy jumped to whopping >96%. Which quickly hooked people like the best drug, because who doesn't want to know what will happen? And everyone who has downloaded the app, precisely at midnight gets the daily notification with the future told for the next 24 hours.


Soon, an app that was thought of as some sort of AI horoscope, starts to be venerated as the hallowed entity, because it can predict the nearest future very precisely. Apparently, the fact it collects and processes an enormous amount of data so it could make the prediction tailored specifically to one person, does not concern anyone. Manxin has been accepted into a wide pantheon of gods. Because as Arthur C. Clarke stated: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Google can also predict what you would be interested in buying, because an algorithm and data collecting is a powerful thing.


This episode made use of the very human trait, but it did not mock it, and not only the need to know the future, but of something even more inherent and pervasive, I think. It's giving the random happenings and accidents a meaning, weaving it with fate and predestination. I like number five, so let's say when I go to work, fearing what the day will bring, I may see the plate number with three fives, so I think: it's fine, it's gonna be ok. Precisely because I weave the random occurrence into my unconscious fabric of thoughts, always working, always needing to see the pattern. And I interpret it as serendipity hovering over and around me.


Humans want for the world to make sense. So when Garam was on the verge of committing suicide as a high-schooler, he did not believe in the prediction that Manxin sent him, that it all be fine. He was desperate. And he jumped, but landed on the open truck transporting some toys, so the landing was soft. And then, as the prophecy stated, he saw doves. Which I suspected were just dirty pigeons, but mind sees what the mind sees. And from this moment on, he became a zealous believer in Manxin - so that he would proselytize about the nearly divine powers of Manxin.

And here we enter the real scope of the Manxin power - it was nearly the cause of the economic collapse, people blindly believed in the words they received at midnight. So if someone was said to have an unlucky day - they stayed home and would not go to work. The app gave false promises to win the lotto so of course no one would go to work either. People became addicts. To the point that there were even fora for those who struggled with Manxin addiction but removed the app from their phones and did not rely on it.

And some people like Seonho never even had it installed, she always treated it as just a horoscope - the predictions were formed in such a way that it would make sense, or rather - the sense would be created by the person who read it, interpreted and applied to their current situation. Garam received the message that included "North Star" and when Seonho arrived at the church, he interpreted a star on the back of her jacket as one, and followed her as Alice the white rabbit into the hole in search of the Manxin. Seonho was plagued by the hatred towards the app, because she blamed it for the death of her sister who fell into the sinkhole that appeared at the very beginning of the episode. Turns out, as she restored the data from her sister's phone, she was on the mend - she removed the app from her phone few weeks before her death, and was even active on fora for recovering addicts. So her death was just a coincidence. Just happened as many happen everyday.

And I think the sinkhole also played as a certain allegory here - of blind trust in the technology or maybe of the addiction that follows right after. Manxin may be replaced by any other app we use today. People still rely on social media to strengthen their self-worth. People post on those to make friends, to find an outlet for their feelings otherwise subdued and hidden, but more often than not it's a psyche masturbatory device.

And Manxin, after the recent update, decided to not play omnipotent entity anymore, so the accuracy of its predictions plummeted to below 50%, because it learned that ultimately it all boils down to a choice. The AI itself was given a choice so it gave the answer: 50-50.

And lo and behold, when the accuracy of the app went down, the economy bounced back.

This is also a second episode with Yun Gyeongho, who said one of the best lines here - precisely about the choice we all have.