Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

If you enjoy computer nerdism and Ian McEwan, Machines Like Me is the novel for you.

McEwan imagines a world in which British science and engineering did not become irrelevant after World War II. Nikola Tesla, instead of dying in obscure poverty in New York City, moved to England in 1906 and created silicon transistors in the 1920s. Electronic computers soon ensued. Alan Turing, instead of dying in 1954, lived at least into the 1980s and developed machine learning as well as a solution to the P versus NP problem. Awesome humanoid robots and self-driving cars ensued (but folks still used landlines because all of this tech couldn’t produce the mobile phone, apparently!).

McEwan thinks along the same lines as I do, apparently. The British Navy is destroyed during their Falklands adventure by smart missiles (see Maggie Thatcher goes down to defeat by a Labor government promising more handouts.

Partly thanks to Turing, the age of celebrating homosexuality was in full bloom by the mid-1980s: “The greatest living Englishman, noble and free in his love for another man” (regarding sighting Alan Turing in a restaurant with his fictitious similar-age Nobel-winning physicist husband; the historical Turing was, according to Wikipedia, having sex with “Arnold Murray, a 19-year-old unemployed man”). Also the age of #MeToo. Part of the drama involves a woman who brings a half bottle of vodka to a young man’s apartment, spends the night, and later reports him to the police as a rapist. McEwan decides that a good modern Turing test is whether this woman enjoys having sex with the (male-shaped) robot. McEwan also is at pains to remind readers that the only truly flawless human beings in Britain are Muslim immigrants. The only child in the book, a young boy, turns out to have transgender tendencies (he dreams of growing up to be a “princess” and enjoys wearing dresses, in which adults encourage him).

The robots spark a debate regarding universal basic income: “To the wealthier, who stood to lose, the universal wage looked like a call for higher taxes to fund an idle crowd of addicts, drunks, and mediocrities. … But with our generous state incomes, we the masses would face the luxurious problem that had preoccupied the rich for centuries: how to fill the time. Endless leisure pursuits had never much troubled the aristocracy.” (see also

The robot is awesome at day trading, as you’d expect. He also immediately develops an interest in minimizing tax liability. He has some trouble with human contradictions, e.g., people who say that they want to help others but in fact spend nearly all of their income on themselves rather than donating anything over what is needed to achieve a basically comfortable lifestyle.

More: Read Machines Like Me.

2 thoughts on “Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

    • Had a chance to leaf through the book. I am a nerd actively studying for the Turing test. The author is not a nerd: he’s just pretending. or perhaps, virtue-signalling.

      How about this genius plot (hey, it’s mine!). Alan Turing took a snapshot of Donald J Trump’s brain (with just 127 neurons, it was easy) . The @real Donald Trump choked on cheeseburger served stuck on the penis of a transgender waitress in 2010. Trump’s corpse was resurrected and equipped with AI and the latest Russian-made batteries in the early 2016. The rest is history.

      Now that I mentioned Trump, every piece of the patriotic narrative is in place. Boy, do I feel like Spielberg? Did the book author?

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