Ian McEwan is pissed off, although it doesn't show. The author of Amsterdam and Atonement opens the doors to the newcomer and exhibits the best of his smiles, although his mind betrays him when we begin to speak inevitably of the man-machine relationship. "A while ago I have been shouting at the computer," he acknowledges. "He has eaten something he was writing and there has been no way to recover it ... I have not been able to avoid an emotional response, I would say that I have even an emotional relationship with the fridge, others have it with their cars."
Until the house of Ian McEwan (Aldershot, 1948) in the bucolic Cotswolds, in the western United Kingdom, we have arrived fleeing from the hotbed of London. The next day he has an unplayable date in the capital, but on a sunny afternoon like today he decides to chew time between the woods and in that stone home, which has some literary strength.
Despite the self-imposed remoteness, and its purpose of isolating itself from the political cacophony, it has not been able to resist the temptation to write "a Kafka satire" on Brexit ( The cockroach , of imminent publication in the United Kingdom). Although what really brings us here is Machines like me (recently published in Spanish by Anagrama), his latest novel, in which he imagines the peculiar relationship between two humans and an "artificial human" called Adam ...How close do you think we are from a love triangle between men and machines? It's a matter of time. Ten, 50 years, you never know. But it is inevitable that this moment will come, which some call singularity, in which machines will be smarter than men, and then everything will change ... It will be a much greater change than that of the industrial revolution. I am one of those who think that we are on the verge of a fundamental change in our civilization. We have to see how we face the other problems, such as the weather emergency or the new nuclear race. But we can meet soon before the great challenge of human societies. What will be our relationship with smart machines? How will they affect our daily lives, work, human relationships? Machines can be our salvation ... Or they can also be our final point. Are we moving towards a utopia or a technological dystopia? The utopias always end badly. The idea that you can make everyone happy with the same formula is absurd, and has often required a bloodbath throughout history. The confusion of human nature must be allowed, and the problem is that utopias do not allow it. I rather believe in progress, with all its contradictions. The utopias end up becoming paranoid. Should we heed the warnings Stephen Hawking and now Elon Musk issued about the risks of artificial intelligence? It should be taken into account, yes, especially when it comes to their military applications . Or in political manipulation, such as Russia's role in the election of the American president [Trump] and in the sabotage of European institutions. Or to control the population, such as facial recognition techniques in China ... But positive applications can be fantastic and liberating for the human being. Artificial intelligence can have the answers to many of the problems we have today, although it is convenient to have an eye on it. Let's say that your Adam does not belong precisely to the lineage of the threatening robots. What was your inspiration? Well, it is a robot that integrates seemingly well into home life, which serves as a company to its owner, Charlie, and helps with tasks, but that on the fly forces humans, and especially his companion, Miranda, to consider all kinds of questions: about the truth, the lie, the betrayal, the love, the sex, the death ... Everything goes seemingly well up to a point, but the thing can end up hammering, like that moment that I conceived as a tribute to the scene of the death of the replicant in Blade Runner, my favorite science fiction movie. Despite its overwhelming logic, there comes a point where Adam is almost indistinguishable from a human being ... I would say that Adam is almost a mirror that forces us to ask ourselves the big question: "What makes us human?" And what definitely separates men from machines is the lie. For now, what sets us apart is our ability and our ability to lie. Now, how long will it take to invent the algorithm that teaches the machines to lie? I think that will be the definitive proof that machines have reached consciousness, when they are able to deceive us. If a machine behaves like a human being, should we treat it as such? Alan Turing would say yes, and in fact his advice Charlie is very aware when Adam makes love with his partner, Miranda, and wonders if he can be considered a full-fledged cuckold ... I use Turing, the great forerunner of computer science and one of the most privileged minds of the twentieth century , to issue what I call whispers of wisdom. And how was the idea of establishing a futuristic fable in 1982? Precisely to give Turing the life he could not have. If he had not been convicted of homosexuality and had not ended his life in 1954, he would have been 70 years old by that time and possibly have been living in Camden, which is where he located it. I also liked to play with the idea that the present is a very fragile construction, as is the past. And more a past to which the advances of the future have come ... The future is already here, life goes on, and we are all excited and at the same time worried about these technologies that we do not know where they will take us in a few years. I'm not good at making predictions, that's why I preferred to look back before setting an abitrary date in the future. 1982 was the year of the Falklands War ... Yes, it was the year of that nationalistic fervor that didn't last long and that then he came to the deep social and economic divisions of the 80s, the protests against Thatcher's poll tax , the rebellion within the tories and the radicalization of the Labor left with Tony Benn, who eventually became Jeremy's mentor Corbyn ... All that social background is very close to the present, with the divisions caused by Brexit, and that also suited me to give a sense of imminence, accentuated by the fake news ... Three years resisting temptation and now it will be unmarked with a short novel about Brexit ... Yes, it is titled The Cockroach , it is published in two weeks. It is a satire of Brexit, written in Kafka dyes. I didn't expect to write it, really. But I got a first chapter, I sent it to my editor, and we decided to give it continuity. We cannot escape reality. There are people who have decided to disconnect, but I fall day after day in the trap. Even John le Carré has written a novel about Brexit ( Agent running in the field , which will come out next month). We know about his aversion to predictions, but how will all this end? Personally, I still don't hear a good reason To leave the EU. The question of sovereignty does not mean much to me, every time you sign a trade agreement with another country you have to reach a compromise on your sovereignty. Are we going to do that with the US and in a position of weakness? Or are we going to do it within the EU, with 72 trade agreements with everyone, including the last one with Japan? The referendum won with lies and the people who want to take us out, like Boris Johnson, have run out of arguments. The only one they use is this: the people have spoken and their will must be followed. Brexit is going to be the greatest act of self-harm in our recent history, but the British are prone to self-harm. Speaking of the future, Philip Roth predicted in his day the "death of the novel." In 'Machines like me', Adam himself says that the novel will give way to haiku as a favorite literary genre. Philip Roth was the author of some of the best books of the twentieth and twenty-first century, but he believed that he was wrong in his prediction. It is very of his generation that of saying "after me, the flood". I was afraid, among other things, of the Kindle, which seems to me to be a wonderful invention that allows you to carry up to a thousand travel books ... I think we have a novel for a long time, for one simple reason: we have not yet found an artistic form better to capture the inside of a human mind. Every time we have more distractions, in addition to some splendid television series like Chernobyl , but the novel will persist for another simple reason: the human conflict. In my novel, Adam predicts the death of the genre, convinced as it is of his own utopia: the novels will disappear because they essentially serve to narrate the failures and miseries of human behavior. In a world of perfect harmony between machines and humans, there will be no need for novels ... But I am one of those who think that conflict is inherent in human behavior, and therefore there will always be novels, as long as we do not invent anything better.
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