The writer Ian McEwan is fond of tinkering with the past in his work. His new novel, Machines Like Me, takes place in 1982, but it's a different 1982: John Lennon and John F. Kennedy are still alive, as is the famed computer scientist Alan Turning. Just what kind of a world would that be?
McEwan and ZEIT ONLINE culture editor Dirk Peitz discuss the novel in the podcast Zeit Bühne. They talk about Machines Like Me and our relationship to artificial intelligence. Because even though the Beatles regress musically in the book, Turing has helped the world make major progress technologically. There are self-driving cars and life-like, intelligent androids.
One, named "Adam," shakes up the romantic relationship between Charlie and Miranda. Can Adam think, act morally and love? And can humans develop emotions for machines? Of course, says McEwan. "Anyone who kicks his broken-down car has an emotional relationship with a machine."
McEwan's and Peitz's conversation goes from the way history has been altered in the novel to the present day. Technology can provide closeness, as seen in Japanese robot pets that have been developed to keep senior citizens company. But it can also end in catastrophe if it causes planes to crash.
"Artificial intelligence makes mistakes," says McEwan. But humans do, too, and that's what leads the conversation between McEwan and Peitz to politics. McEwan says he doesn't think the current Tory government will deliver on Brexit. "I honestly do not think that we will leave," he says.
The interview was conducted in English and recorded in an auditorium at LMU Munich university. In the recording, actor Helmut Becker also reads passages from "Machines Like Me" from the German translation.