Book Review: “Machines Like Me” by Ian McEwan

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I read Atonement a few months ago (you can read the review here) and fell in love with how Ian McEwan writes. So when his new book about an AI man came out this year, I had to get my hands on it. Machines Like Me is about an impulsive man, Charlie, who buys an AI named Adam. Their interactions grow increasingly strange and morally compromising as they navigate dilemmas with their mutual love interest, Miranda. The setting is an alternative 1980s England.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Machines Like Me gets right:  I loved reading about the philosophy and morality behind AI versus humans, and Adam was fascinating to me from the beginning. It was hard for me not to read ahead to see what he would do next. I mean, he figures out how to make haikus! And his version of morals- well, let’s just say it doesn’t mesh well with his human companions.

There was a weird tone throughout the book- one of both curiosity and dread- that kept me interested even through some of the less exciting scenes. Everyone who Adam comes into contact with is a test- what will he say to them? Will they recognize him as an AI? And why did Charlie buy him in the first place? Machines Like Me will keep you guessing until the end. And the ending, while a little unexpected, is mostly satisfying.

What Machines Like Me does wrong: As usual, Ian McEwan’s writing is superb, and I was hooked on the premise from the beginning. However, I couldn’t help but think there was a lot of unrecognized potential. AI is such a controversial topic, but McEwan’s story sizes it down to make it seem almost pedestrian. I thought Adam could be a true villain, but I think his potential was ultimately unrealized.

Charlie and Miranda were both boring/frustrating people, so they were hard to read about at times (especially because Charlie narrates the story). Charlie makes the weirdest, most random decisions, which is entertaining but so annoying. It’s like he doesn’t think about any consequences, ever- which is dangerous to do when dealing with AI.

Who should read Machines Like Me: Readers who are interested in AI, science fiction, and history. The alternative 1980s setting would be especially fun to read about for fans of Alan Turing.

Who shouldn’t read Machines Like Me: Readers who don’t care for science fiction or don’t know much about the history of AI. This book will be a little confusing if you are not familiar with certain historical events.

 

Machines Like Me is not currently available at the library, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.

Content note: brief suggestive scenes, brief language. There is also a subplot that involves a terrible crime.