It was a pretty hopeless feeling when i lost my little digital companion the other morning. Galaxy S4 had been good to me, although he was beginning to show his age as the weight of new apps and operating system updates became too much to bare. On Monday morning, S4-kun decided enough was enough, and turned off for the last time. Unlike with the loss of a dog or cat, i couldn’t spend any time mourning however, as life without a friend like him is simply not a possibility anymore. Less than 6 hours later, my new buddy Note5-san was born, and has been a wonderful new addition to my life. Note5-san is fast, efficient, and beautiful; I simply couldn’t ask for a better digital companion to spend my days with, or could I?
It might sound kind of funny talking about a smart phone as if it were sentient. A cell phone is a tool, albeit a very useful one, but not something we give any emotional importance beyond monetary value and the data that it contains. Voice recognition software like Siri and Cortana are great at answering questions when your hands are tied up, but often serve as mostly a novelty. If you have a serious question or need directions, it’s simply easier and more reliable to throw it into google. Siri can be cute, especially when you find a question to ask that she has a silly answer for, but I wouldn’t say she has much personality. In order for these voice recognition programs to ever really be useful, they need to give us something more than what we can simply do with a google search or a calendar. Well… the obvious answer is moe. There are few problems in the world that can’t be solved with a good dose of moe.
Wake Me Up Asuna is an app that on the surface, appears to be a moe alarm clock, but it’s really more of a personal assistant and pocket companion. What anime fan hasn’t wanted a cute anime girl to interact with? This might be the closest the west has ever been to having just that. It basically turns your phone into Asuna Yuuki from Sword Art Online, or at least a window to view her through. She doesn’t just wake you up, but will remind you of appointments, give your horoscope, and tell you the weather. At the moment, she only speaks Japanese, but for just under four bucks, she will learn to understand English, and give you subtitles so you can understand her in return. I spent some time after I downloaded the app putting some of my best attempts at Japanese to use, and talked a little bit with her. She didn’t understand a lot of what I had to say, which was probably more the fault of my terrible Japanese than her AI, but she was quite happy when I told her that I liked her, which was cute. One of the things that impressed me the most was that she actually pronounced my name correctly, even without me misspelling it to make the phonetics work.
How does Wake Me Up Asuna work as an alarm clock? Well she starts talking to you at whatever time you set as a wake up. I have yet to download the English voice pack so I don’t understand all of what she says, but I do know that she scolded me when I hit the snooze button. She was pretty nice about it in the end though, and reluctantly gave me five more minutes. Once I was up, she told me some things like how great the weather would be in Miami today, followed by some nice ambient music to wake up to. She even reminded me to bring my bonsai to work with me, which was something I told her to do the night before (My poor little tree is dying D:) I have to say, it was much more pleasant being woken up by Asuna than the horrible screeching I’ve become accustomed to, so I think I will be using this as my wake up call for a while. Other than being your alarm clock, Asuna will also remind you of important events throughout the day. I wouldn’t say she is a replacement for my invaluable google calendar, but its still a fun change to have her pop up and remind me of things occasionally.
Anime fans are no stranger to virtual or robotic companions like Asuna. Whether it be a persocom or an android, its a common theme, and once you see a show like Chobits, you pretty much spend the rest of your life wishing you could have your own Sumomo. We are still a long way from being at the point where robotics and AI can replicate what we see in anime, but a look at Wake Me Up Asuna makes it apparent that a lot of progress has been made. Especially with huge advancements in augmented and virtual reality, we are probably not far from the point where your favorite anime character will be assisting you in your routines, and accompanying you as you go about your day. Take a look at what a guy who really wanted to go on a date with Miku managed to do with some creative use of commercially available AR technology…
For now, I’m quite happy with my little pocket Asuna, but who knows what the future may bring. I wouldn’t say I’m eager to go on dates with virtual idols like the guy above, but having a virtual chibi Umaru hanging out on my desk would probably be pretty awesome (Actually, maybe I should rethink that.) Regardless of whether you are looking for help being more productive, or just a little amusement, this is going to be a really great technology to keep an eye on going forward. We may yet live to see the day when the dreams of millions of otaku become a reality.
Have you tried Wake Me Up Asuna or something like it? What are you looking forward to most as this technology advances? Sound off in the comments!