Ian McEwan, Machines Like Me


Charlie Friend is 32 and he is dissatisfied with his life. As a day trader, he hardly makes any money. He is an anthropology graduate, but his life has been built on a succession of schemes that never fully succeeded. He befriends a neighbour, a history graduate student called Melinda.

The story is set in the 80s, during the Thatcher years, not in present time, so advancement in machine learning and robotics would not be common knowledge. However, Charlie has had a bit of interest in the subject, even publishing a book on it.

At about the same time Charlie and Melinda become more intimate, Charlie acquires an humanoid robot, with the money he inherited from his mother. Charlie decides to share the robot, Adam, with Melinda. The introduction of Adam in the story becomes a good ploy to explore several aspects of human nature, ethical dilemmas, and issues of free will and agency.

It turns out that Melinda hides a big secret which suddenly changes the course of the story (and started making it much more interesting to me).

In the end, neither the world, nor the technology, appear to be ready for completely autonomous humanoid beings, but this book raises interesting questions. I think this book would foster lively discussion in a book club.

McEwan, Ian. Machines Like Me. Penguin Random House, 2019.

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