Those of you who follow my blog know that I rarely start a review with my opinion about a book. Well rarely, but not never. Machines Like Me is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The writing is amazing, the story is captivating and intriguing and the interplay between the story, history (or I should really say alternate history) and the rise of technology is compelling
The story starts in 1982 in London. Charlie Friend, a slightly impoverished 33 year old searching for his place in the world, inherits money from his mother and spends 86,000 pounds on a 170 pound male robot, Adam. Charlie, we learn, makes a living (barely) day trading, so this purchase is beyond extravagant and arguably irresponsible.
Adam looks and acts like a real man. The longer he exists the more knowledge he gathers and the more human he seems. He has an unwavering sense of moral, intellectual and ethical behavior and a unique thirst for knowledge. He becomes an expert day trader.
In 1982 there is a lot going on in England. In the story’s version of British history (which varies greatly from the actual events) the Falkland War has been a disaster for England, unemployment rises to 25%, the garbage collectors are perpetually on strike, and Margaret Thatcher loses an election to Tony Benn of the Labour Party, who is almost immediately assassinated. In addition, artificial intelligence is well beyond where it is even today. This alternate history is interspersed throughout the book.
Adam is one of 25 robots, named either Adam or Eve, created and sold throughout the world. After Charlie purchases Adam, he fantasizes about the possibility that he and his neighbor and love interest, Miranda, can jointly formulate Adam’s personality. Throughout the book Charlie and Miranda become closer and romantically linked. Adam becomes an important part of their lives. But Adam, who seems to know all, also falls in love with Miranda and warns Charlie not to trust her. As the novel progresses, we learn that Miranda has a tragic secret, one that Adam, in his world of black and white morality, views differently than Adam and Miranda, whose minds are arguably more nuanced. Unfortunately, Adam’s black and white sense of right and wrong sends Charlie and Miranda to a dangerous place.
Portions of the novel describe the growth of artificial intelligence and the progress of technology, in some instances in connection with weaponry and the displacement of human labor. One of the main scientists credited with this growth is Alan Turing. Turing, in reality a mathematician and computer scientist who died in 1954, is credited with being actively involved in the creation of the Adams and Eves. Charlie and Miranda spot Turing at a restaurant one evening. Charlie approaches and tells him he has an Adam but it is clear that Turing does not want to speak with him in a public place. Charlie leaves his card and Turing ultimately contacts him and asks to meet. It is at this meeting that Charlie learns that all is not well with the Adams and Eves. Charlie has a second meeting with Turing toward the end of the book which is perhaps one of the novel’s most memorable moments (and yet there are so many striking moments).
Miranda’s father, Maxfield, is an aging, cranky, slightly famous writer. Miranda decides it would be a good idea for Maxfield to meet both Charlie and Adam, so the three drive to visit him in Salisbury. Adam and Maxfield engage in a lively discussion about literature and Shakespeare and Maxfield appears to be quite taken with him. Miranda offers Adam a tour of the house and leaves Charlie with her father so that they can become better acquainted. After exchanging mundane pleasantries, Maxfield mistakenly assumes that Charlie is the robot.
There are lots of other things that take place in the novel but I will let you discover them for yourself. The novel raises all sorts of moral questions and leaves the reader wondering how slim the line is between right and wrong, and man and machine and whether man has a right to dominion over everything else. As I said at the start, the novel is just brilliant—great story, amusing alternate history and thought provoking conjecture about the role and future of artificial intelligence. You should reserve this novel right now at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here. Don’t wait!! I really want to know what you think.