Machines Like Me

Ian McEwan

Machines Like Me
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Machines Like Me

Ian McEwan

Britain has lost the Falklands war, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power and Alan Turing achieves a breakthrough in artificial intelligence. In a world not quite like this one, two lovers will be tested beyond their understanding.

Machines Like Me occurs in an alternative 1980s London. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong and clever - a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will confront a profound moral dilemma.

Ian McEwan’s subversive and entertaining new novel poses fundamental questions- what makes us human? Our outward deeds or our inner lives? Could a machine understand the human heart? This provocative and thrilling tale warns of the power to invent things beyond our control. 

Review

In Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan imagines a world in the past that is also the future. Britain has lost the Falklands War and driverless cars are the norm. Alan Turing, the great scientist, is also still alive and has developed his theories of artificial intelligence into sophisticated open-source programs. A small tech company has used these to create a small batch of highly sophisticated (and expensive) life-like robots.

With the aid of an inheritance, Charlie, a barely successful day-trader, purchases an ‘Adam’. Charlie is in love with Miranda, who shares an interest in AI and lives in the flat above. Charlie invites her to share in setting up Adam’s personality. When Adam comes to life, he is caring, sensitive and protective. He also falls in love with Miranda, successfully takes over Charlie’s day-trading and grapples with complex ethical problems. In essence he becomes a living, autonomous and independent, thinking being.

No doubt there are people working now on creating machines like Adam; what remains to be seen is how we will relate to them, and how they, in turn, will relate to us.

Machines Like Me is funny, challenging and, at times, weird and confronting. It’s always compelling.


Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings.

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