Ian McEwan: ‘Who’s going to write the algorithm for the little white lie?’

Tim Adams in The Guardian:

There is a scene toward the end of Ian McEwan’s new novel, Machines Like Me, when the narrator, Charlie, is pushing his lifelike prototype robot, Adam, in a wheelchair through a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. The demonstrators are protesting about everything under the sun – “poverty, unemployment, housing, healthcare, education, crime, race, gender, climate, opportunity”. The suggestion being presented by McEwan and his narrator, however, is that here, unnoticed in their midst, is the one thing they should be most concerned about: a man-made intelligence greater than their own. There is a Cassandra tendency in McEwan’s fiction. His domestic dramas routinely play out against a backdrop of threatened doom. Since the portent-laden meditation on war and terrorism, Saturday, in 2005, he has also turned his gimlet attention to climate change in Solar. The opening lines of that novel – “He was running out of time. Everyone was, it was the general condition…” – have sometimes sounded like his fiction’s statement of intent. The New Yorker called his work “the art of unease”.

It was perhaps, I suggested to him one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, therefore only a matter of time before he got around to the looming ethical anxieties of artificial intelligence. McEwan smiled at this idea and explained that he had been enthralled by the possibility of man-made consciousness for just about as long as he could remember.

More here.

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