Machines Like Me

Machines Like Me

And People Like You

Book - 2019
Average Rating:
Rate this:
"Machines Like Me occurs in an alternative 1980s London. 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. Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda's assistance, he co-designs Adam's personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong, and clever--a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will confront a profound moral dilemma."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: Toronto : Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2019
ISBN: 9780735278196
Branch Call Number: MCE
Characteristics: 333 pages ; 22 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Aug 25, 2020

The central concept of this book is far from original — the existential problems associated with Artificial Intelligence have intrigued many a writer. And of course the trouble arising out of creating a likeness out of our fantasized vision of ourselves or the ideal companion/muse/lover/alter ego goes all the way back to Greek mythology. That said, McEwan brings his own quirky imagination to the task, along with a generous degree of chutzpah in supposing an alternate version of history to suit his convenience while placing his story anachronistically at the time of the British Falklands war. Audaciously, he goes so far as keeping Alan Turing (1912 – 1954) alive in 1982, to be used as a sounding board and guru in the exploration of his supposed technological breakthroughs. With all that in mind, I’m inclined to shelve this as fantasy.
The thematic parallels between this book and Richard Powers’ "Galatea 2.2", written more than 20 years earlier, are impossible to ignore, but it’s such a compelling narrative that I don’t blame McEwan for having another go at it. Powers’ AI creation that he named “Helen” suffers the same fate as the super-intelligent Adams and Eves in “Machines Like Me”: having been created in their own ideal world suffused with brilliance, grace and beauty and governed by a precise, logical, moral code of behavior, they are confused and devastated when faced with the paradox of human perversity, greed, depravity and injustice.
In common with Powers, McEwan also shoehorns his story of the AI dilemma into a somewhat mundane domestic drama featuring Charlie, a less-than-lovable protagonist and his amorous adventures. In both novels, the love story adds little to the central narrative other than to bring the higher discussion of a clash of values into an everyday human context, with varying degrees of success. (Powers' secondary characters are far more interesting than McEwan's)
All my foregoing quibbles aside, I found this (my first introduction to McEwan) to be well-paced and eminently readable; McEwan cannot match Richard Powers’ vast intellectual reach but he is mercifully much more concise — a strong point in his favor! A strong 3+ stars rounded up to 4.

Feb 19, 2020

Weird. And couldn’t empathize with even the human characters. Interesting premise that poses valid questions about the future. But needed a stronger plot as well as more developed human characters to even care. Became a lost story with lost potential, otherwise.

Jan 16, 2020

If you allow yourself to accept an alternate history whereby Alan Turing is still alive and ushered in an unprecedented age of advanced AI (which is questionable considering how strongly this story relies on Great Man Theory), you just might find a good read. This novel excels in its exploration of how Adam (a lifelike AI cyborg) is "born," grows up, loves, and attempts to find a place in an existence it did not ask for, but must learn to accept. It is an erudite novel, often involving characters discussing academic understandings of life, war, politics, love, and justice. I enjoyed that, but can understand how the preachy aspects of the novel can turn someone off. The novel stumbles with an unnecessary rape sub-plot, and unfortunately portrays a woman lying about rape (despite how justified that action is portrayed). An interesting read, but not much more than that.

Nov 30, 2019

I liked the concept of human machines and the issues and problems that were dealt with from the owners perspective and the robots but at the same time was bored by the rambling of the author's need to emphasize how intelligent the robot was. The depth of the intelligence of the robot took away from the story line.

Nov 19, 2019

Named one of Chatelaine magazine's Buzziest Books of 2019

Sep 02, 2019

Recc by Pat D Aug 2019

Aug 25, 2019

The premise of Machines Like Me is that Alan Turing, one of the brilliant founders of theoretical computer science, did not commit suicide in 1954, but lived on into the London of the 1980s, the setting for the novel. The effect, as McEwan imagines it, is that computing progresses rapidly and jumped years ahead. Thus, the novel is set in a world where computing is as it will be in the midst of Ray Kurzweil’s predicted “singularity,” the point where artificially intelligent technology exceeds the human capacity for understanding and control.
I must confess that I am somewhat skeptical of the singularity concept, which has colored my appreciation of McEwan’s book. I’ll only say that projections into the future are often right in some details, but seldom work out as predicted. Something unexpected always completely changes the outcome. The industrial revolution improved human lives drastically but appears to be reaching its limit with climate change, unlike the utopias and dystopias imagined in the 20th century based on projecting the social implications of industrialization. The digital revolution likely has its own self-generated limits, but we won’t know what they are until they become so obvious, we will be forced to quit ignoring them.
My own optimistic projection for the future is that with machine enhanced capabilities, humans will always have the upper hand over technology and never reach the point predicted by the singularity enthusiasts.
With that off my chest, Machines Like Me has a challenging premise, relatable characters, clear language, and an entertaining plot driven by a robot that is close to mentally and physically indistinguishable from a living human. The robot becomes a vertex in a love triangle with two humans and a player in an ambiguous rape trial.
I read the book with pleasure. The continual mental debate I held with the author on the plausibility of his alternate history added to the entertainment. The moral ambiguities were stimulating. The computer science is a bit shaky for a software engineer to enjoy, but plausible enough. Just don’t take the discussion of NP complete problems too seriously. The book is not a stirring adventure or romance, but it is an entertaining and provocative story for someone fretting about the future.

Aug 03, 2019

Didn't like the characters and too much about British politics.
The robot was the most interesting.

Jul 05, 2019

Enjoyed reading this book. It is about science fiction with a social angle. Well researched and up to date. The narrative reads like the daily world news. The moral aspect is highlighted for decisions currently facing humanity. I will read other books by the author.

Jun 14, 2019

I loved this novel, as I have loved every text by McEwan that I have ever read, so I might be positively biased.
This novel is a modest page-turner. I obviously wanted to know what would happen to Charlie, Miranda and Adam. Yet the author knows how to make his readers understand that simply finding out what what will happen is only as important as (or less important than) thinking about various issues raised by the plot. There is, of course, the question of man vs. machine, but not only. A few other issues: what is ethic, what makes one guilty, what is love, what is forgiveness… So take your time when reading.
I really enjoyed the alternate history that forms the background for the story. Past meets Future + modified events + invented elements = a rich world to discover. Kinda like in the Thursday Next series.
Let me finish with two trivia:
- In various languages, including Turkish or Azerbaijani, the word "adam" means man. Even if McEwan was not aware of this, it's interesting given the topic of the novel
- The picture of Adam on the cover strongly reminds me of Matteo Bocelli (check out the video of "Fall on Me"). Again, this hints at the blurring between man and machine!

View All Comments


Add a Quote
Jun 04, 2019

It was religious yearning granted hope, it was the holy grail of science. Our ambitions ran high and low - for a creation myth made real, for a monstrous act of self-love.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at BPL

To Top