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To: Patricia

OK, Patricia, I don't know if this is the kind of thing you want, but it just came to me. This is a work of fiction, although similarities/dissimilarities to existing whatevers are mostly intentional, so you shouldn't read too much into it. So there. It's rather long. about 2,350 words. If it's too long, let me know and I'll try to cut some corners. If the whole thing is inappropriate, well, I don't know, but tell me anyway. I'll try to think of an alternative.

Also, I don't mind giving you a Japanese version (no, you never mentioned it), but the question is, how? I don't think you have a computer with Japanese fonts installed, so you won't be able to print it out. You want the Japanese text to be in your catalog as well? Or shall I just send you a separate Japanese printout? Tell me how you want it.

The NESS Project and the Birth of Truck Babies

(For Patricia Piccinini Catalog)

Yamagata Hiroo

Historically, the Japanese unemployment rate was virtually zero, but in the late 1990s, it soared, and as of January 2000 it was hovering around 4.7%. The figure's scary; it's historically the highest level of unemployment that Japan has experienced in half a century, and it doesn't seem to be a temporary thing. There are a lot of jobless people out there. Rampant restructuring going on everywhere, people are getting fired everyday, there's no Job security, which means social instability, which means...
Believe me, I know a lot about these things. I can give you a full lecture on unemployment, I can explain to you every implication of this figure on the Japanese economy. So when I say this figure is scary, I have every theory that there is to back me up. It IS scary, and it's a theoretical fact.

"Mr. Yamagata, will you come to my desk for a while?"

My boss called me up on the phone. What? All my projects were running smoothly, several minor glitches but none that my boss had to step in. I guess he wants to assign me to one of those end-of-the-fiscal-year last minute projects that are thought up just to use up any budget surpluses. But, sorry boss, I'm already fully booked, and I have to visit Patricia in Australia for her opening. I walked up to his desk which is halfway across the floor, where he was leafing through some pictures, it seemed. He didn't look up when I got there, just looking at the pictures in his hand.

"Sir? Before you say anything, I can't do any new projects, and you know that. And I WILL take that vacation next month."

"Ah, Mr. Yamagata. What, new projects? What made you think of that? As the manager here, I have full knowledge of your work allocation, you know. Besides, we ENCOURAGE employees to take vacations, in order to increase their vigor! So how's your projects? The Mongolia Post project? The Mallaca project? Oh, and the NESS project? Or the ITS?"

Something's not right. He had something on me.

"They're doing fine, boss. What is it?"

"Well, I just received these, and I thought you might be interested..."

And he tossed a bunch of pictures on the desk. First, I couldn't make them out, but the shapes gradually started to come into focus. Oh, these are Patricia's Car Nuggets. What the hell was my boss doing with this. And what are these? Truck Babies? I never saw these ...

Then, it struck me. Shit. Patricia, so you just HAD to do this, didn't you? You just had to stab me in the back like this. I'm doomed.

"Very interesting material, especially considering its striking resemblance to the NESS prototypes, as you can clearly observe. Now, can you explain these for me? You're e-mail record here shows that you have made number of contacts with this...certain Miss Piccinini. How in the world did she get hold of this?"

Suddenly, the 4.7% figure was no longer theoretically scary. Now it became menacing. Physically.

Of course, it wasn't my fault at all. This wasn't supposed to happen. Patricia (nor anyone outside, for that matter) was not supposed to see that thing at this point. But before I go into that, I guess I have to explain about the NESS project.

The NESS Project. Not too many people know about this. It's the latest of Japanese MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry)'s cross-industry frontier project. The success of the VLSI project in the early 1980s really got to MITI official's head and they started dreaming that they could somehow dictate the direction of future technology. So they launched project after project on what they thought to be the next big thing in high technology. The Sigma Project (aimed at better computer operating systems) and the Fifth Generation Computer Project, the Reality Project. But unfortunately (or maybe it was inevitable, depending on your position) all floppe... I mean, every one of them were rather limited in their scope of success, and many people involved felt they lost considerable amount of face.

So, when the last in line was launched, they decided to keep it a secret for awhile. That was the NESS Project, which began in mid 1990s.

And this is understandable. The goal of NESS Project was rather vague. Officially, it stood for Natural Evolution of Simulacra Systems Project, but actually, it was a project that tried to create authenticity, or "ness", like humanness, horseness, carness. You look at a car, and you don't have to see the details to figure out that it's a car. You sense the carness. How do you create that sense?

This was important. People don't buy stuff these days to actually use them. Some people buy US$50,000 watches. It's use value is virtually the same as a US$5 souvenier watch. The remaining US$49,950 amount of utility resides in the "ness" of the watch. So how do you make that "ness"? In Japan where much of the manufacturing market has become saturated, this was the only way to sell things. And once you get to the heart of this "ness", it's potential would be endless. Financial application was another area, since the market moves around not what actually is, but what could be and would be, and their likeliness. If you could engineer believability in whatever story, you can basically fuck with people's expectations. If you can do that, you can get away with anything, and you rule the market.

The project initially started with model makers and comic writers. Soon, the project grew out of that phase. It was discovered that authenticity was a function of complexity, which is best achieved through a biological process. Here, the classic Japanese art of Bonsai (miniature trees) helped immensely. A miniature tree is not a model of a tree, it has to retain the "ness" of a tree. This finding was the major breakthrough. And, since one of the major contributors to this project was a auto manufacturer, the pilot project targeted on "truckness". We took a small internal combustion engine vehicle (this was important. You had to have a proper interior to achieve proper "ness"), and cover it with a polymer sheet impregnated by this bio-engineered "seed". It grew, gradually covering the whole vehicle (we called this the bio-ness layer) giving off the truckness, and we were half way there...but then came the "escape", and that was when Patricia happened to get a sneak preview during her stay in Japan.

So there I was, in front of my boss, with 4.7% flashing in my head.

"How in the world does she know about this? I also have reports that say, you were showing her around the vicinity, so I assume that you are responsible for this. How did it happen? You realize that I would have to report this to the Ministry, do you?"

I had to say something. I had to talk my way out of this...

"Ah, sir, it wasn't me that let her see it, this was during that escape. No one could have possibly predicted that!"

Patricia wanted to take some pictures of highways in Tokyo That's how it happened. OK. So I took her around, to fire escapes behind various buildings around my office. We were at our 5th location. Traffic was so-so that day, with the Metro-Highway not completely clogged. Trucks, cars, some bikes, more cars, a huge empty truck ... which was followed by THEM.

I was almost shocked to death. Patricia must have been quite surprised, but screw her, I'll deal with her later, I had to make that phone call. I left her there, ran down to the bottom of the fire escape, and found a pay phone.

"Moshi moshi, Yoshi? It's me. I just saw..."

But before I could finish, Yoshi (one of the main team member) was screaming at the other end of the line.

"Mr. Yamagata! The Prototypes escaped!"

"What are you talking about! Are you on drugs or what??! They don't have any fuel! They possibly can't move! And we didn't put any censors on them! How can they ever leave?"

"I know! But there's no sign of break-ins or anything! And I just checked the record and it seems that the bio-ness layer grew some sensors and some kinetic device based on the engine! And we have no idea where they are..."

Actually, his words were a lot less coherent than that, but anyway. Now it was my turn to scream.

"I know where they are! I just saw them! It's on the Metro-Highway, heading toward Hakozaki!"

"WHAAT!! I'll send some hunt squad right away!"

"And make sure you take care of the media OK?"

It was later discovered that they somehow saw (or sensed, to be precise; they have no eyes) the truck that brought a huge turbine to the lab that they, and they followed it. The fact that the bio-ness layer was based on duck DNA may have had something to do with it, but we*re still looking into it.

When I got back, Patricia was understandably in a very curious mode. And she saw my reaction to them.

"No Hiroo, I did see those cute trucky things, and you did, too. And you weren't simply surprised, you were alarmed and went into action. You know something."

"Oh, ummm.... they were the prototype of a miniature truck, but they aren't released yet, it was supposed to be a secret project..."

"No! That thing wasn't a miniature truck, it had this authentic essence of a real truck! It felt like it was... like half way truck! Wierdest thing I've ever seen..."

"Now Patricia, what the hell are you talking about!?! Essence of a truck?! What kind of a crazy idea is that? A small truck is a small truck, there's no way that you can be half-way truck, you can't separate that sort of truckness from a truck and slap it on to something, can you??!"

But of course you can. I knew that. And come to think of it, Patricia was an artist who actually worked in this field. In her She focused on the essence of speed, she tried to capture carness ... She knows it's doable. I didn't think I quite convinced her, although she didn't say anything at that time. But seeing her Truck Babies, I realized that she really was quite impressed. She saw it for only about 10 second or so, but look at the accuracy of this...

"A, a, and look at this! She just focused on the exterior! You know that the internal complexity oozes onto the exterior, and that is what makes a *ness* of something. That relation between the interior complexity and the exterior detail is the biggest finding of this project. This ... thing, is just an empty thing. It shows nothing about the project or anything!"

This wasn't really true, and I knew it. Exterior IS important, in terms of "ness". Seeing is believing. Visual cues do play a large role. And another thing; Patricia wasn't exactly an exterior-centric artist. She has been quite conscious about the internals of her creations. Have you ever looked inside one of those Car Nuggets?

However, I was certain that my boss knew neither of these. He never actually set foot in the lab nor read any of the real reports (and he sleeps through my PowerPoint summary presentations), and he certainly hadn't seen any other of Patricia's work. The look on his face showed that he was starting to get convinced. Good. One final push, and I might get off the hook...

"Besides, sir, just think of what you're saying! You're afraid of THIS?? Come on, she's a fxxking artist, for crying out loud! Everyone knows that artists are bunch of unproductive shallow brained useless social dropouts! Who takes them seriously?! I mean, do you? You want to show this to the Ministry? You think they actually care what a no good artist made, way down in Australia? We took care of all the major media, so there's nothing to back her up! You'll just make a fool out of yourself!"

My boss gave me a long stare. I was worried. Did I over-push it? Was that a bit beyond the Japanese GAOP(*1)?

Then, he sighed.

"Well, maybe you*re right..."

And then he giggled.

"Yeah, you must be right. Just a piece of CONTEMPORARY art. Nothing important like Gogh or Michaelangello. Maybe I was being too nervous. But I have to be cautious, just in case. And you be cautious, too. There are others who may not know you as well as I do, and they won't understand, would they?"

I refused to comment on that, but my boss just went on.

"Oh, and may I ask you to cancel your vacation next month. There's a power plant in Cambodia that needs attention, I'm sure you'll be interested in it, nothing difficult. I don't know what you're plans are, but of course you can postpone it, can't you? After all, work always comes first, you know."

Usually, I would have said no. I really wanted to go to Australia for Patricia's opening. But at this point, it seemed very unwise to refuse, and it would be disastrous to bring out any mention of Patricia or Australia.

"Uh, yes sir, I think I can manage that, no problem. Uh, gotta go now, I have a meeting...and oh, could I take these insignificant so-called art work? I'll throw them away for you on my way."

"Ah yes, shouldn't keep you all tied up. You may go now. And yes, please get rid of those. I don't want anyone else to see them and get weird ideas, you know..." And then, as I grabbed the pictures and was starting to turn around, he called from behind. "Artist, huh? Yes, what was I thinking? No one in their right mind would take them seriously, would they? Hahahaha..."

"Hahahaha, no way, sir..." I was already halfway across the floor when I said that. Yeah, no way...

But looking at the pictures in my hand, I wasn't actually so sure.

Oh, and the NESS project got a hint from Patricia's work. We're actually trying to train those Prototypes using those "Sisters". We're getting quite a result here. We don't have any theory behind it yet...but hey, Patricia said so, and she seems to be on to something.

*1 GAOP: Generally Accepted Office Protocol, as defined in ISO20900 series.

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