Is our world in great flux. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the world is uncertain and volatile. We have to cope with the new norm and face the flux resulting from the pandemic for better or for worse.
As the human race evolves, social etiquettes also change as we negotiate with what is acceptable in the presently fast moving landscape of tech world and era of social media.
Months ago, I was trying to resolve an outstanding matter at work and the officer in charge had since retired. I was told that the department in Kuala Lumpur had taken over the portfolio . I asked for the phone number of the new officer-in-charge, I was given another local number to call. I had to call this other local number with a view to get the phone number of the person-in-charge in Kuala Lumpur. You would think that in this era of technology, every piece of information is easily accessible, particularly within the same bank. When you press a general contact number that requires you to press 1 and 2 then 1 and 2 or 3 or 4 and if you accidentally press the wrong number or disengage, you have to start all over again. These institutions are talking about protecting our data when we know very well how easy our data is floating around. If only we could go back in time to see how things were done previously.
I find that with automation and technology, due to demands of modern living, humans are becoming robotic in that we seem to be losing basic common sense and awareness of our behaviour. As we are compelled or strive to succeed in life and be thriving individuals, we neglect to examine our consciousness or comprehend our ever fluid sentient mind and reflect on thoughts that go through or missing from our heads. In Machines Like Me, Ian McEwan has created humanoid characters that come with consciousness.
Machines Like Me is a science fiction set in alternative 1982 London where Britain has lost the Falklands War to Argentina, Margaret Thatcher battles Tony Benn for power and Alan Turing, the British mathematician and computer scientist is still alive. There are a few themes to juggle with hence the novel is not a book that I am able to read in one sitting, particularly when I read several books at any given time.
In the story, thirty- two-year-old Charlie Friend dodges full-time employment and survives by playing the stock and currency markets online. He lives in north Clapham, studied physics and anthropology. When Charlie comes by some inheritance from his mother’s estate, he buys Adam, one of twenty- five cutting-edge humanoids, twelve “Adams” and thirteen “Eves” built to serve as “an intellectual sparring partner, friend and factotum” who can wash dishes, make beds and “think’ . Charlie is in love with his neighbour, Miranda Blacke who lives above his flat. Miranda has to work on a dissertation on nineteenth-century Corn Law reform and its impact on a single street in a town in Herefordshire. She is twenty-two. Despite the age gap, Charlie sees a future in them and he begins to court Miranda by inviting her to co-author the personality for Adam. Miranda’s father Maxfield Blacke is a famous writer whose physical health is failing but his mind remains sharp. He lives in Salisbury and whenever she returns from her visit, he listens to her describing his pains. He tells Miranda that he wants to meet her father. She wants Adam to come too.
The story is narrator in Charlie’s voice.
‘ I was among the optimists, blessed by unexpected funds following my mother’s death and the sale of the family home, which turned out to be on a valuable development site. The first truly viable manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks, believable motion and shifts of expression, went on sale the week before the Falklands Task Force set off on its hopeless mission.’
‘ Every moment of his existence , everything he heard and saw, he recorded and could retrieve . He couldn’t drive as yet and was not allowed to swim or shower or go out in the rain without an umbrella, or operate a chainsaw unsupervised. As for range, thanks to breakthroughs in electrical storage, he could run seventeen kilometres in two hours without a charge or, its energy equivalent, converse non-stop for twelve days. He had a working life of twenty years.’
When Miranda suggests that Adam will go along with them to visit her father, he is apprehensive. He muses,
‘ She had assumed joint ownership, just as I’d hoped. But an encounter between Adam and an old-style literary curmudgeon like Maxfield Blacke was hard to envisage. I knew from the profile that he still worked in longhand, detested computers, mobile phones, the Internet and all the rest. Apparently, he didn’t , in that priggish cliché, ‘suffer fools gladly.” Or robots.‘
In anticipation of the meeting with Miranda’s father, Charlie decides to prepare Adam so he can pass off as a person. He takes Adam out and about. Their first expedition is to walk 200 yards to their local newsagent. It is hilarious.
Miranda has a secret and Adam warns Charlie about it. When confronted, Miranda decides to tell Charlie and Adam about her secret. As the plot thickens, Adam demonstrates that he has a superb mind, not only he reads literature and has got his mind round Dirac’s quantum theory, he also composes haikus. But he is ill-equipped to understand human decision-making process and he has been inflexibly programmed in such a way that “truth is everything” thus he will do what he ‘thinks’ is right by the rule of law regardless of extenuating circumstances.
An interesting and thought-provoking read that explores buyer’s remorse and the moral ramifications of artificial intelligence. A mind-bending story that questions what makes us human and whether humanoids could possibly possess conscious existence or ever overtake the humans.