Machines Like Me And People Like You by Ian McEwan

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Kevin Thurlow
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Joined: Wed Apr 30, 2008 12:28 pm

Machines Like Me And People Like You by Ian McEwan

Post by Kevin Thurlow » Fri Aug 09, 2019 11:21 pm

Usually known as "Machines Like Me". The book describes an alternative history where UK loses the Falklands War in 1982, but AI and computer technology are incredibly advanced. There are other changes, like Tony Benn being leader of the opposition. The narrator is Charlie, who has been lucky to avoid jail over his financial work, so is currently unemployed. However, he has been left money in a will, and spends most of it on one of the limited edition of extremely human-like robots, named Adam or Eve, depending on the gender. He wants an Eve, but they have already been sold, so he gets an Adam. Charlie fancies Miranda, who lives in the flat above his. When Adam is powered up, he tells Charlie that Miranda has a dark secret. Adam resolves to find out what it is. When he does, the three work together to try to resolve a problem arising from the secret. Will Adam break Asimov's First Law? (A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.) Well, the book wouldn't be very dramatic if he (or it) didn't... There is interesting discussion of how this timeline has proceeded. Many of the advances in AI have been due to "Sir Alan Turing" (still alive here) and Demis Hassabis (born some years earlier than our timeline!). Computers mastered chess in the 1950s and Go in the late 1970s. Driverless cars are on the streets. I was a bit troubled by the name check of Demis, but the author stated that he had a long conversation with Demis, so I assume the latter was happy to be named. Turing takes a more active role in the book, and the author says he based the character on the Davies biography (which I found very good). I'm not quite sure he gets Turing right though. The main characters don't seem very likeable, but that doesn't seem to matter.

I read the book before I looked at newspaper reviews and they seemed divided between "good" and "brilliant". I tend to the latter opinion, the book is well-paced and there are plenty of surprises in it. I have mentioned the chess references above, but I think that's sufficient to justify the review here. I did actually buy the book, it wasn't a review copy!

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Re: Machines Like Me And People Like You by Ian McEwan

Post by ben.graff » Thu Jan 02, 2020 7:35 pm

I read this recently. I would say "good" by McEwan standards, which still equates to "brilliant" relative to most other writers. There are some flaws. A robot that can't lie feels a bit quaint, and a lot turns on this somewhat cliched assumption. The setting in an alternative 1982, is alright but in some ways feels artificial. That said, McEwan is an incredibly skilful author and the chess/ AI references are all well done. I'm a big fan of Ian McEwan more generally and this is definitely worth reading.
Ben Graff
Author of 'The Greenbecker Gambit' and 'Find Another Place'

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