MACHINES LIKE ME
Once again we enter the world of AI with Ian McEwan's latest unsettling novel although the setting is an alternative 1980's South London common
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BY IAN McEWAN
Machines Like Me is the latest novel from one of our favourite authors, Ian McEwan. It takes some time to make a connection with the characters and for the story to unfold but persevere because by the end we were totally hooked.
As a Wild Card choice in the Den, the exploration of AI (artificial intelligence) is not going to appeal to all McEwan fans but this new novel, still in hardback, is in tune with the wave of current interest in technological advances and our own fears of 'robots' as they become ever more human-like.
Charlie, a computer geek, lives in a tiny flat in South London with no real purpose in life except Miranda. He uses the last of his inheritance to buy Adam – one of 13 Adams and 12 Eve robot prototypes. Together, Miranda and Charlie programme their 'Adam', creating his personality and become transfixed with the artificial, yet human-like machine. As the relationships become intertwined so problems arise, secrets are unravelled and boundaries are broken. Because Adam is perfect, his decision-making is flawless, ethical and focused. Unlike Charlie and Miranda he is unable to tell “little white lies” or recognise innuendos. The introduction of Mark, a small badly damaged boy who Miranda is desperate to adopt, suggest that at the end of the day, do we want the perfect human being?
McEwan explores the idea of whether and how we can form relationships with machines. What influence can AI have over people’s life choices and at what point do the lines of human instinct and AI become blurred beyond recognition?
Interestingly, whilst computer technology is highly advanced in Machines Like Me, the narrative is set in 1980’s Britain under Margaret Thatcher with its history and outcomes altered: The Falklands war for example has been a disaster for Thatcher and Tony Benn has been thrust into power. With its notable parallels to our current constitutional turmoil this makes for an interesting political backdrop.
This is also the third of our RD choices which has featured Alan Turing (Murmur and Frankissstein) and Turing again plays a role, although this time McEwan assumes Turing chose not be castrated and carried on working to great acclaim. Turing is Charlie’s hero and he is bowled over when he gets the opportunity to meet him to discuss his “Adam.”
This is a dystopian novel which doesn’t have the natural readability of some of McEwan's other works, but in terms of a genre and trending theme it is definitely a great Wild Card option. From one of the Den's favourite authors.
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