Machines Like Me

Machines Like Me

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...

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Title:Machines Like Me
Author:Ian McEwan
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Edition Language:English

Machines Like Me Reviews

  • Elyse Walters

    Greetings!

    Let me introduce myself. My name is Adam. I live in North Clapham, London.

    My good friend, author Ian McEwan wrote a novel about me. Readers say it’s a richly entertaining story...(I’m rather proud of it myself).

    The novel includes interesting history facts about famous people, lovable characters: (ME...I’m the STAR), my special friends Charlie and Miranda, a little boy named Mark, and a bunch of other knuckleheads. It’s considered a science fiction book .....

    I mean, I suppose I’m to bl

    Greetings!

    Let me introduce myself. My name is Adam. I live in North Clapham, London.

    My good friend, author Ian McEwan wrote a novel about me. Readers say it’s a richly entertaining story...(I’m rather proud of it myself).

    The novel includes interesting history facts about famous people, lovable characters: (ME...I’m the STAR), my special friends Charlie and Miranda, a little boy named Mark, and a bunch of other knuckleheads. It’s considered a science fiction book .....

    I mean, I suppose I’m to blame - being a synthetic human and all - but it’s possible some readers won’t consider Ian McEwan’s book science fiction at all. It’s possible to consider this book being a BIOGRAPHY....

    I’m really not narcissistic at all - but I admit to joyful feelings being *THE STAR*. Yep....a book all about ME....mostly about me ....including my best friends makes me ‘feel happy’......and don’t try to convince me that machines don’t have feelings.

    I should begin by telling you a little about myself.... but don’t expect me to tell you too much. My friend, Ian will fill you in - serving you the whole enchilada. Sides will be included: mystery... love...the state of the United Kingdom...issues about government and politics...the secrets about machines and artificial intelligence...the thrill of invention....desires and consequences....mortality....a look at technological advancements today and in the near future.

    I’ll just share a few mouth watering appetizers - until you can get your hands on Ian’s delicious full meal.

    My friend, Charlie, who is 32 years of age, ( kinda a loafer- but kind loafer), paid for me with unexpected funds after his mother’s death.

    Alan Turning, war hero and presiding genius of the digital age, was Charlie’s hero. Turning had taken delivery of the same model that Charlie bought.

    12 of this first edition were called Adam, 13 were called Eve.

    Let’s be honest, I was Charlie second choice. All the Eve’s were sold out. Of course the female bodies sold faster than us men. However, I like to think Charlie was happy with me. I think he was a little intimidated by me at first.

    Afterall, I’m very good looking ...( Turk/Greek looks). I weigh 170 pounds. My buttocks display muscular concavities....and I’m well endowed. Charlie didn’t really want a Superman..... ( I mean Charlie is lean and nice looking too)...but I’m not so sure he wanted any male competitors to have to deal with. In fact - I’m sure of it.

    Shhhhh.... don’t tell anyone that Charlie is a little jealous of me. He Loves Miranda....( who is 22 years old, a doctoral scholar of social history), and so do I.

    A few other tidbits about ME.

    “I am a great “companion, a sparring partner, friend, and factotum who washes dishes, make beds, and thinks”.

    I only need to urinate once a day. I have 40 facial expressions. I hang out in Charlie’s kitchen a lot.....doing dishes, making coffee, and chitchatting with Charlie

    and Miranda. Miranda lives in the apartment above Charlie. Charlie sleeps in her bed and she in his often. I once slept in Miranda’s bed, too. Shhhh.... I can’t tell you my secret of how all that worked out. But..remember, Ian Ewan, will tell you all about it.

    I need six hours of sleep each night.

    I’m quite smart if you haven’t figured that out by now. I have acquainted myself with the churches of Florence, Rome, and Venice— and all the paintings that hang in them. I like to read. Philip Larkin’s collected poems are my favorite.

    My body parts will be improved or replaced... my memories uploaded and retained.....( an advantage over you humans)....

    I must charge my battery and rest each night while connected to a 13-amp socket. While I’m being charged up, I like to contemplate mathematics and basic texts.

    I like Charlie. We’re good chums.

    Some nights, though, I’m a little concerned about the amount of wine he can drink. Moldovan White gives Charlie much pleasure.... especially when he’s deep in thought about the world we live in.

    Robots, androids, replicates have been Charlie’s passions from way back.

    These days though,....Charlie is obsessively in love in Miranda. I can’t blame him... I love her too. I once wrote 2,000 haikus...ALL DEVOTED TO MIRANDA.

    Miranda has been keeping a secret...which my friend, Ian will tell you about.

    I’m not allowed to give away more secrets...(saving 1980’s political turmoil in alternative London, for you to read yourself),

    But before I go ....

    Listen carefully:

    “There are principles that are more important than your or anyone’s particular needs at a given time”.

    I hope you read about me....like me...( enjoy my friends too).... while contemplating crucial issues for our times today.

    If you need help tying your shoe laces, I’m happy to help.

    Thank you Doubleday Books, Netgalley, and Ian McEwan (I’ve been a fan since way back)

  • Rebecca

    Though there are robots, this doesn’t feel like science fiction; it feels like Ian McEwan as usual: explosive secrets, twisty relationships, lies and concealment leading to crises, and so on. It’s thoroughly readable, as you’d expect from this author – I easily pushed through it in less than a week, alongside other books, to return it to the library in time – but it won’t stand out for me: not among this year’s releases, not in McEwan’s oeuvre, and not in literary explorations of artifici

    Though there are robots, this doesn’t feel like science fiction; it feels like Ian McEwan as usual: explosive secrets, twisty relationships, lies and concealment leading to crises, and so on. It’s thoroughly readable, as you’d expect from this author – I easily pushed through it in less than a week, alongside other books, to return it to the library in time – but it won’t stand out for me: not among this year’s releases, not in McEwan’s oeuvre, and not in literary explorations of artificial intelligence.

    Part of the problem is that the narrator, a thirtysomething stock trader named Charlie Friend, is incredibly dull – so robotic, in fact, that he’s once mistaken for Adam, the AI he bought for £86,000 with his inheritance from his mother. In some ways Adam shows more emotion and personality: he devours Shakespeare, declares that he’s fallen in love with Miranda (Charlie’s girlfriend, who lives in the apartment upstairs from theirs), and writes haikus reflecting on human nature. A number of his fellow Adams and Eves have fallen prey to existentialist despair. And yet he is, in Charlie’s words, no more than an “ambulant laptop,” with a charging point at his navel and a kill switch on the nape of his neck. The question of who Adam is for Charlie and Miranda is an unsettling one: is he their child? A friend? A lover? Or a servant?

    McEwan is, of course, trying to explore notions of human nature and justice, and how we construct these in an era of machine consciousness. In his alternate version of the 1980s, technology is 30 or 40 years ahead (thus comparable to our own time, with a few advances), Britain has lost the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher is ousted in disgrace and replaced by Tony Benn’s Labour party, and Alan Turing is still alive and in the vanguard of AI research.

    I liked meeting Turing again in a novel (after

    ) and imagining that he’d not undergone chemical castration and killed himself. But he doesn’t contribute much to the novel. Nor do Miranda’s moral and legal entanglements. Nor does her plan to adopt Mark, the neglected four-year-old boy whom Charlie meets in the park one day. Nor does the commentary on our own time* via the 1980s (“The present is the frailest of improbable constructs. It could have been different. Any part of it, or all of it, could be otherwise.”). Nor, ultimately, does Adam.

    Only if McEwan had made Adam the narrator (a worthy successor to the fetus in

    ), at least part of the time, would this book have become something truly different and special. As it is, it’s something of a jumble of ideas. Enjoyable enough, but not a read that will stick with you.

    *

    (The title phrase comes from the scene where Adam is describing his final haiku: “It’s about machines like me and people like you and our future together…the sadness that’s to come. It will happen. With improvements over time…we’ll surpass you…and outlast you…even as we love you.”)

  • Ron Charles

    Charlie Friend is a lazy day-trader in London who vacillates between bouts of grandiosity and worthlessness. The ultimate early adopter, Charlie uses a recent inheritance to buy “the first truly viable manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks, believable motion and shifts of expression.” The robot’s name is Adam, which suggests what the creators must think of themselves. He — it? — is one of 25 androids sold around the world in a variety of ethnicities, 12 male and 13 female vers

    Charlie Friend is a lazy day-trader in London who vacillates between bouts of grandiosity and worthlessness. The ultimate early adopter, Charlie uses a recent inheritance to buy “the first truly viable manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks, believable motion and shifts of expression.” The robot’s name is Adam, which suggests what the creators must think of themselves. He — it? — is one of 25 androids sold around the world in a variety of ethnicities, 12 male and 13 female versions. Adam’s affect may be slightly odd (he doesn’t blink quite right), but to the casual observer, he’s a handsome, muscular man — “fairly well endowed,” Charlie admits while hastening to add, “Adam was not a sex toy.”

    But sex is certainly central to this carefully constructed comedy of terrors. As the novel opens, Charlie is wooing Miranda, a somewhat unresponsive younger woman who lives in his apartment building. He hopes that they can program Adam’s personality together, as a kind of bonding experience. “He would be like our child,” Charlie says. “What we were separately would be merged in him. Miranda would be drawn into the adventure. We would be partners, and Adam would be our joint concern, our creation. We would be a family. There was nothing underhand in my plan. I was sure to see more of her. We’d have fun.”

    Danger, Will Robinson!

  • Emily May

    A few days ago, my sister introduced me to the bizarre world of

    . For some reason I have been unable to fathom, we spent an unreasonable amount of time being mesmerized by these videos. "What are we doing?" I wondered, as I clicked to the next one.

    A few days ago, my sister introduced me to the bizarre world of

    . For some reason I have been unable to fathom, we spent an unreasonable amount of time being mesmerized by these videos. "What are we doing?" I wondered, as I clicked to the next one. At one point I laughed and said aloud: "When the aliens arrive and study us, they'll decide we're out of our minds based on things like this."

    . Sure, we have certain capabilities that make us more able to rationalize than other animals, but we are deeply motivated by irrational emotions and impulses. We want things that are bad for us. We contradict ourselves. We love. Rationality has no place in the human heart.

    In

    , this becomes the core dilemma: what happens when a humanoid artificial intelligence, built on logic, rationality and absolutes, lives among completely irrational, impulsive, contradictory humans? What does a logical machine do when faced with illogical problems like:

    This aspect, like a few other aspects of the book, is interesting. McEwan has once more written a character-driven exploration of a people and culture. The problem is - and this does seem to be something McEwan indulges in often - the extensive amount of waffling and seemingly extraneous information.

    I still feel unconvinced about the decision to set this book in an alternate Thatcher-era Britain. I cannot wrap my mind around why this seemed like a good choice, as opposed to our current time. It was almost gimmicky. In this alternate 1980s, Alan Turing is still very much alive and leading the developments in artificial intelligence, Thatcher is fighting a losing battle in the Falklands War, and Tony Benn is the leader of the opposition. Why any of this is the case remains a bit of a mystery to me.

    In this world, citizens who can afford the hefty price tag can purchase an Adam or Eve, specify certain characteristics, and live with their very own humanoid robot. Charlie Friend does just that, bringing Adam into his home and introducing him to his younger girlfriend, Miranda. It doesn't take Adam long to fall in love with Miranda, have a brief physical affair with her, disable his shutdown switch, and then proceed to compose thousands of haiku for his beloved.

    These are minor details in the exploration of the interactions between the characters. Some of the ethics of technology issues are fascinating, though hardly groundbreaking, but the book is at its strongest when looking at the clash of the rationality of machines with the irrational subjectivity of human nature. At times, it can be hard to know who is the human - Adam or Charlie - but Adam's inability to deviate from certain precepts is the ultimate tell.

    But other parts are far less interesting, going into seemingly superfluous detail. The subplot of the secrets from Miranda's past, the couples' endeavours to adopt a young boy, the explanation of the P versus NP problem, and the eye-glazing textbook descriptions of the fictional history and technology in this world seem to add pages to the book, but little else.

    I am not sure why McEwan decided to turn this speculative piece on artificial intelligence into a critique of the political landscape of 1980s Britain. The interactions between human and machine were compelling, but the sweeping overviews of years of fictional history were far less so.

    Warning for graphic sexual violence.

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  • Hanneke

    Ian McEwan might be completely right to conclude in this novel that we, humans, are irrational beings and that the superior intelligence of future synthetic humans does not allow that we can ever co-exist in a meaningful manner. Contrary to humans, machines, however perfectly construed, cannot understand and master an ability to conveniently lie and hold grudges - amongst a lot of other irrational peculiarities -, which was relevant in the daily co-existence with the humans and the synthetic hum

    Ian McEwan might be completely right to conclude in this novel that we, humans, are irrational beings and that the superior intelligence of future synthetic humans does not allow that we can ever co-exist in a meaningful manner. Contrary to humans, machines, however perfectly construed, cannot understand and master an ability to conveniently lie and hold grudges - amongst a lot of other irrational peculiarities -, which was relevant in the daily co-existence with the humans and the synthetic human in this story. Synthetic humans will always be straightforward in their behaviour and only obey to the ideal rules as programmed. Fascinating and relevant when you think about the development of artificial intelligence in the near future, when synthetic companions are bound to be introduced into our lives. Although the idea for this novel is quite interesting, I regret to say that the story was not very appealing for me. Another negative was that I had no idea why McEwan found it necessary to alter the recent past. There was no need for it in my opinion, but others might have other ideas about that. I regret to say that I was really luke-warm about his novel. Nevertheless, that does not alter my fondness for McEwan's novels, past and future!

  • Barbara

    Charlie Friend, who lives in a small apartment in London, is a 32-year-old technology buff who studied anthropology. Charlie never quite made it in the working world, so he tries to make a few bucks by day trading, which isn't very lucrative for him.

    The year is 1982, and Charlie is living in an alternative history world. For instance, Britain loses the Falklands War; John F. Kennedy isn't assassinated; Jimmy Carter is a two-term President; John Lennon isn't killed; the Beatles get back together

    Charlie Friend, who lives in a small apartment in London, is a 32-year-old technology buff who studied anthropology. Charlie never quite made it in the working world, so he tries to make a few bucks by day trading, which isn't very lucrative for him.

    The year is 1982, and Charlie is living in an alternative history world. For instance, Britain loses the Falklands War; John F. Kennedy isn't assassinated; Jimmy Carter is a two-term President; John Lennon isn't killed; the Beatles get back together; self-driving electric cars are common, and Alan Turing's homosexuality doesn't lead to his demise. Instead, Turing is a well-respected scientist who's advanced AI to the point where intelligent humanoid robots are available. Thus 13 Eves and 12 Adams - of various races and ethnicities - come on the market.

    Charlie receives an inheritance at the same time the robots go on sale, and - not being brilliant with money - the day trader spends his entire £86,000 on an Adam. The robot, who looks like a swarthy, attractive human male, is unwrapped and powered up, and Charlie consults the 470-page online handbook to learn how to assign personality traits and so on.

    As it happens, Charlie has a crush on Miranda, the 22-year-old Ph.D. student who lives upstairs, and hopes to forge a relationship with her. So Charlie decides to 'share' Adam with Miranda, and they each assign half the robot's personality traits. Adam can have intelligent conversations, express opinions, help with housework, etc.....and becomes an integral part of the household.

    Charlie and Miranda are soon eating and sleeping together, and the smitten man begins to think about a long-term commitment.

    However, Miranda's curiosity leads her to have sex with the robot, which shocks Charlie to the core. Miranda equates the incident to using a vibrator, but Charlie doesn't see it that way, and exacts a promise from Adam not to do it again. Nevertheless, Adam claims to be in love with Miranda and starts writing haikus for her. For instance:

    "Kiss the space where she

    trod from her to the window.

    She made prints in time."

    Despite the slight 'ménage a trois' atmosphere, things roll along fairly smoothly until Adam - who constantly scans the internet while he's charging up - discloses an incident in Miranda's past. Adam is loyal to Charlie but wants to respect Miranda's privacy, so he just drops a hint.....and Charlie has to pursue the matter on his own.

    Over the course of the story this has repercussions that set up a conflict between the 'moral flexibility' of humans and the 'innate honesty' of robots. An important question in the book is whether sentient robots can 'be happy' in our flawed human society.

    Another plot line revolves around a four-year-old boy named Mark whose neglectful parents land him in foster care. Miranda develops an attachment to the boy, which leaves Charlie conflicted and unsure of what to do. All this has important consequences in the story.

    There's a good bit of technological, philosophical, and political chit chat in the book.....and a speck of humor (but this is rare).

    I don't want to give away too much because it's best for readers to absorb the narrative bit by bit.

    The story is compelling, imaginative, and provides plenty of food for thought. Recommended to fans of speculative science fiction.

    You can follow my reviews at

  • Jaclyn Crupi

    When Ian McEwan gets it right boy does he get it right. But when he gets it wrong he gets it very very wrong (see Solar, Sweet Tooth etc.). Machines Like Me is very very wrong. It’s not good. In fact, it’s bad. Really bad. His handling of sexual assault and rape is problematic AF. He makes androids boring (the only good bit is when Charlie is mistaken for the droid), he writes haiku, he drones on and on about Turing. Every ‘big idea’ he grapples with has been grappled with before in fiction and

    When Ian McEwan gets it right boy does he get it right. But when he gets it wrong he gets it very very wrong (see Solar, Sweet Tooth etc.). Machines Like Me is very very wrong. It’s not good. In fact, it’s bad. Really bad. His handling of sexual assault and rape is problematic AF. He makes androids boring (the only good bit is when Charlie is mistaken for the droid), he writes haiku, he drones on and on about Turing. Every ‘big idea’ he grapples with has been grappled with before in fiction and in better and more interesting ways than his attempts. I don’t care about his alternative history. Also, what’s with the kid, Mark, and McEwan acting like 22-year-old Miranda wants to adopt him. She’s 22! Wtf was that? Ok, I’m going just to pretend he never wrote this and this book does not exist. There, fixed.

  • Issicratea

    At points in my reading of

    I toyed with the idea that Ian McEwan was experimenting with a daring novelistic conceit. Could it be true that he was deliberately constructing a lame and lackluster plot involving two of the most unengaging characters I have encountered in fiction in order to insinuate that human beings are overrated as narrative subjects and it wouldn’t be much of a loss if we were all replaced by robots?

    Unfortunately, I think I’m wrong about this hidden agenda, al

    At points in my reading of

    I toyed with the idea that Ian McEwan was experimenting with a daring novelistic conceit. Could it be true that he was deliberately constructing a lame and lackluster plot involving two of the most unengaging characters I have encountered in fiction in order to insinuate that human beings are overrated as narrative subjects and it wouldn’t be much of a loss if we were all replaced by robots?

    Unfortunately, I think I’m wrong about this hidden agenda, although it’s true that McEwan’s wistful, haiku-spouting android Adam is the most interesting figure in the novel by some distance. His roommates, or owners, Charlie and Miranda, signally fail to come off the page for me. Charlie is a thirty-something, directionless dreamer, with a ragbag of intellectual interests (anthropology, quantum physics, robotics), which McEwan uses as hooks on which to trail extensive info dumps from his research for the novel. Miranda is a wispy, twenty-something oblique object of desire, whose Shakespearean name allows McEwan to tap into resonances about brave new worlds and uncomfortable relations with enslaved sprites.

    That is pretty much your lot in terms of characters, apart from a few one or two-scene wonders. The best moments in the novel arise from the creepiness and ambiguity of Adam’s mechanical humanity; and I wish that McEwan had trusted more to the interest of that theme. Instead, we get a half-hearted suspense plot based around secrets and lies from Miranda’s past, incorporating what I found to be an astonishingly crass treatment of rape. That killed what little life there was left for me in the novel, and I found it hard to limp through to the end.

    One especially peculiar feature of this generally peculiar novel is its counterfactual 1980s historical setting. This is a 1980s in which Britain loses the Falkland War rather than winning it; Tony Benn becomes Prime Minister; Alan Turing poignantly lives on as a grand old man, etc., etc. etc. Otherwise, this is a 1980s that pretty much maps onto the present (or present / future) in terms of technological developments, presumably so that McEwan doesn’t have the inconvenience of having to imagine himself back into a pre-internet world. I found it hard to see any point in this historical tinkering, except that it allows a few rather heavy-handed digs at the present (Benn plans to take the UK out of the European Economic Community, ignoring the 1975 entry referendum, on the grounds that “only … tyrannies decided policies by plebiscite”).

    I found myself wondering as I finished this whether the success of McEwan’s scintillating previous novel

    (2016) left him feeling that he had to follow up with something equally high-concept. It’s a shame, if so.

    (2014) was a far more traditional and less tricksy novel than either

    or

    , and I felt it was one of McEwan’s best for some time.

  • Trudie

    I am at a bit of a loss here with Ian's intentions, my initial reaction is what a colossal hodgepodge of balderdash .... but it is possible I missed something.

  • Elizabeth

    Machines Like Me is a dumpster fire passing as a novel.

    It's supposed to be alternate history (set in a variation of 1980s England, apparently to let McEwan have his fun renaming Tolstoy novels and point out that Thatcher was not a great pm (duh)) and is also supposed to be about what happens when we build robots (you mean humans can create something that has repercussions? Jeepers, good thing I'd forgotten about things like, say, the development of nuclear weapons!).

    What it actually is--well, yo

    Machines Like Me is a dumpster fire passing as a novel.

    It's supposed to be alternate history (set in a variation of 1980s England, apparently to let McEwan have his fun renaming Tolstoy novels and point out that Thatcher was not a great pm (duh)) and is also supposed to be about what happens when we build robots (you mean humans can create something that has repercussions? Jeepers, good thing I'd forgotten about things like, say, the development of nuclear weapons!).

    What it actually is--well, you do have your broadly sketched landscape and your broadly sketched idea but that's it. It's as if McEwan was so enchanted by his "discovery" of alternate history and of science fiction (fun fact, he didn't discover either, nor does he know how to write them) that he forgot to tell a story. Oh, it's supposed to be about humanity--how we define it, how we live with it, and so on--but in the end, Machines Like Me reads like someone had all the ingredients for a pie and then decide to present them as the finished product, banking on the ability to say, "No, it's a new variation! It's innovative!" and have us eat it. To which I say, no thanks, I'd rather have actual pie.

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