33 pages 1 hour read

Ian McEwan

Machines Like Me

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2019

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan, published in 2019, is set in the 1980s in an alternative history in which Alan Turing is still alive and robotics technology has progressed to the point that artificial humans are on the consumer market for purchase. The protagonist and narrator, Charlie Friend, purchases Adam, one of the first generation of artificial humans. Both Charlie and Adam fall in love with Miranda, and their ensuing differences in moral relativism inform how they deal with Miranda’s secret criminal past.

All quotations in this guide are from the 2020 Anchor Books paperback edition of Machines Like Me.

Content Warning: This novel contains content references to rape and death by suicide.

Plot Summary

After inheriting an unexpected sum of money from his mother’s death in 1982, Charlie Friend, an artificial intelligence (AI) enthusiast and former anthropology student, purchases one of the first generation of artificial humans. These models are named either Adam or Eve based on their gender and are programmed to be conversational, intellectual, and sexual companions to their owners. Charlie buys an Adam purely out of curiosity, though he regrets spending such a large sum of money when he doesn’t currently have a job but spends his days making small investments on the stock market. Society is on the brink of political, social, and financial collapse, as political discontent and general strikes disrupt life in London.

Charlie is in love with his upstairs neighbor, university student Miranda. She’s secretive, alluring, and reticent about her past even after she and Charlie begin a relationship. In an attempt to form a deeper connection with her, Charlie invites her to contribute half the answers to Adam’s programmed personality. When Adam is finished with his initial charge and receives his foundational personality from Charlie and Miranda, he begins accumulating experiences that inform his machine learning and then usurping these personality choices. After a disagreement on the failed war that England attempted to begin against Argentinian fascists, Miranda has sex with Adam. Miranda and Charlie argue over whether Adam should be considered a person; ultimately, they agree that Adam was merely an object in the interaction and that Miranda didn’t betray Charlie.

Adam warns Charlie that Miranda is lying to him about her past. Charlie confronts her, and Miranda confesses to accusing Peter Gorringe of raping her as an act of revenge. He actually raped her high school friend Mariam, which drove Mariam to death by suicide. However, because Mariam’s last wish was to keep the event from her family, Miranda pursued her own moral relativism to bring Gorringe to justice by lying to the court. Gorringe is due to be released from prison in the coming weeks, and Miranda thinks he’ll try to find and kill her. Charlie resolves to protect Miranda from both Gorringe and the truth of her actions being exposed.

As Adam continues to experience more through research and social interactions, Charlie focuses on developing his relationship with Miranda, largely ignoring the strides that Adam is making in machine consciousness. Adam’s growth is informed by jealousy, as Adam claims to be in love with Miranda too. While on a walk one day, Charlie stops to help a young boy, Mark, who’s being violently hit by his mother. Mark is later dropped off at Charlie’s apartment, as his parents seek to abandon him. Adam reports the incident to the police, and Mark is taken away by social workers to enter the foster system. Miranda begins secretly visiting Mark with the intention of adopting him.

When Gorringe is released from prison, Charlie, Miranda, and Adam take a trip to Salisbury, her hometown. They first visit Miranda’s father, Maxfield Blacke, who mistakes Charlie for the artificial human after Adam engages him in an enthusiastic conversation about literature. While in Maxfield’s backyard, Charlie proposes marriage to Miranda, who accepts under the condition that they adopt Mark together. Charlie agrees despite having no intentions of being a father.

The group leaves Maxfield’s house to confront Gorringe. They find that Gorringe has converted to the Church of England while in prison and has reformed his mindset; he seeks retribution and acceptance from Miranda. Adam secretly records this conversation, which includes Miranda’s confession about lying to the court that Gorringe raped her.

Miranda and Charlie plan their wedding and a purchase of an expensive house after Charlie sets Adam to work on investing in the stock market. They make money quickly, improving their adoption prospects. One day, Adam disappears overnight, returning the next day to confess that he donated the large sum of money he made on the stock market. In addition, he sent his recording of Miranda’s conversation with Gorringe to the Salisbury police; she’ll soon receive a summons to come in for questioning. Afraid that Adam will continue to disobey their intentions, Charlie hits Adam over the head with a hammer, effectively killing his physical body. Adam has enough time to back up his consciousness and request that he be taken to Alan Turing for further study.

England’s societal decline rapidly continues as Prime Minister Thatcher is replaced with Tony Benn, who is soon assassinated. General strikes, increases in crime, and financial instability contribute to the decline. Miranda and Charlie get married. Miranda stands trial and serves one year in prison, during which time Charlie continues to pursue Mark’s adoption. Once she’s released, Charlie takes Adam’s body to Turing. In turn, Turing accuses Charlie of attempted murder and failing to recognize Adam as an individual in possession of a valid form of consciousness. Charlie leaves Turing’s laboratory and receives the news that his and Miranda’s adoption of Mark has been approved.

Related Titles

By Ian McEwan

SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Study Guide
Ian McEwan
Guide cover image
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Study Guide
Ian McEwan
Guide cover image
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Study Guide
Ian McEwan
Guide cover image
SuperSummary Logo
Study Guide
Ian McEwan
Guide cover image
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder
SuperSummary Logo
Plot Summary
Ian McEwan
Guide cover placeholder