Further Thoughts on Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
Sometimes you just have to read bits of a novel again.
Machines Like Me is that kind of novel. (reviewed here) I mused for a long time over the title. What does it mean? Is it a reflection of the fact that we humans, just like Adam in the story, are also machines. We are all machines -perhaps.
On further consideration, I wondered if the emphasis should be on the Like. Any artificial intelligence created in the future will surely have to be preprogrammed with the concept ‘respect for life and the individual’, something like Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Current algorithms, parents of the artificial brain, have no such respect. Blind logic rules. Solutions to the trolleycar problem, with or without the fat man on the bridge, are identical. Self awareness in several of McEwan’s humanoids leads to self destruction.
Machines Like Me, I think, owes much to Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus (see here), imagining in a very realistic way what might happen if Harari’s predictions come to pass.
Ian McEwan takes the discussion beyond the simple, identifiable humanoid robot. My copy of Machines Like Me incorporates a separate short story, Düssel, imagining a distant, near-immortal future, in which the lover must ask the momentous question – ‘Are you real?’
This is more Philip K Dick than Harari but, for me, it’s scary!