The other day I saw Amazon retweet a customer who thanked the company for giving his mom a friend. The friend: Alexa, a computerized voice tied to Amazon products like Echo, a smart speaker you can talk to. Alexa is a lot like Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, a non-physical AI whose sole purpose is to inform people and help them out with their days. The tweet reminded me of Her (2013), a Spike Jonze film where a bespectacled Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with a disembodied AI, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Japan’s stepping up the AI-friend game though, with a new product called Gatebox.
Gatebox is a lot like the Amazon Echo or Google Home: it’s a smart home device that you can bark commands at, and even connect to things in your house (like lights). Except Gatebox has a key difference: it has a holographic being residing within its cylinder base. The hologram comes to life in front of your eyes; speaking with you, animated to even interact with its small environment, like knocking back a cup of coffee. And when you’re away, the hologram might even miss you, sending you sweet nothings and texts urging you to come home as soon as possible.
the hologram will even message you while you’re away
If this hologram technology looks familiar, it might have to do with the Vocaloid pop star Hatsune Miku. Miku has toured the world, complete with a live band, and been projected for all to see. She even recently appeared within the Gatebox itself at Japan’s annual Magical Mirai 2016, a concert and exhibition for all things Miku-related.
Gatebox’s big pitch is to “live with your favorite character.” That initial character, for the time being, is a blue-haired girl named Azuma Hikari. Her dad is a scientist, according to a short manga on her official website. She loves anime, donuts, and fried eggs (there’s even an egg on her outfit), but detests insects. And she became a “dimension traveler” for—who else—you. “Since I was longing for the world for a long time which I had never seen, I’m glad to become a ‘Dimension Traveler,’” she says on her website. “I will fly over dimensions to see you!” So, in essence, Azuma exists for you. And only you.
The Gatebox isn’t set for release until December 2017, but you can pre-order the device here for 298,000 yen (or in U.S. dollars, $2,589.52… yikes). It will only support Japanese language at launch, so no cute anime girl hologram companionship for me.