July 2021: Summer reading “Klara and the Sun“

After 2019, I pick up the topic of artificial intelligence again for my summer reading recommendation: “Klara and the Sun” by Nobel Prize Winner 2017 for Literature Kazuo Ishiguro.

It’s about Klara, an AF. AF stands for ‘artificial friend’. So, is this book just a rehash of the book “Machines like me” from summer 2019? Only at first glance. For the new book by the Nagasaki-born British author is quite different. A first difference stands out immediately: Klara writes from the first-person perspective. So we get to know our world from the perspective of a robot. And with it the simplicity of her grammar as well as her thoughts. For example, she thinks that the sun goes to sleep every evening in the field next to a farm…

It’s more than ”just” about Artificial Intelligence

The second difference to Adam in “Machines like me”: Klara does not compete with humans – or they with her. No, her job is to keep Josie company, a sickly 14-year-old. So Klara is supportive, benevolent and helpful. A real AF, in fact. In his first book since winning the Nobel Prize in 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro describes neither the technical-philosophical background of humanoid robots nor the social impact of artificial information processing (AI).

He confirms once again the Nobel Prize Committee’s rationale and once again exposes the “abyss in our supposed connectedness to the world”. For the warm friendship between Josie and Klara, which comes across nicely on velvet paws, is set in a human and man-made drama. By telling the events from Klara’s point of view in a laconic-naïve and light, easy and so matter-of-fact way, Kazuo Ishiguro makes the dogged, absurd, inhumane world with its fixation on technical innovations, efficient processes and rational coldness all the more clear.

Many AFs – little AI

Only the robot perspective enables the reading human to reflect on the conditions and state of being human. Perhaps it is an opportunity for us to be stimulated to think anew about collegiality, leadership or responsibility through perceptions viewed through robotic glasses – that is, through a really very alien gaze. This requires many AFs, little AI – and in the end (as in the novel) a very human gaze.

I wish you a GS*

Frank Wippermann

*glorious summer

picture: www.penguinrandomhouse.de/content/edition/covervoila_hires/Ishiguro_KKlara_und_die_Sonne_217741.jpg

August 2019

On demand: Here are 2 recommendations from me that couldn’t be more different. Both take up the topic of artificial intelligence – one fascinatingly theoretical, one entertaining and almost frighteningly realistic.

Thinking is hard bread, dear machine! – is the headline of Andreas V.M. Herz, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at the LMU Munich. In his contribution to the FAZ, he shows on the one hand what powerful computing and networking capabilities Artificial Intelligence can already offer today. On the other hand, he describes the limits of the reproduction of brain functions and performance. Instead of a comprehensive decoding, he is satisfied with a “colourful mosaic window” of different theories, without any claim to completeness. So far – so theoretical.

Almost threateningly realistic, very lifelike and bizarre is my second recommendation: a novel by Ian McEwan. It was published by Diogenes Verlag and is available here.

“Machines like me”

Charles buys Adam, a lifelike android. Oh yes, the 13 female of the 25 androids for sale were unfortunately sold out, so Charles just bought Adam – out of pure curiosity. He interferes unexpectedly quickly in Charles’ private life, spins his first intrigues and quickly sows mistrust of Miranda, Charles’ girlfriend. And so, in no time at all, a pair of lovers turns into a triangle. Stupid only for Charles that Adam is not only more well read than he is, but also almost always – including the love life. Little by little, Charles’ argument that robots can’t write novels at least becomes more and more questionable and successively invalidated…

A puzzle of fiction and realit

Artificial intelligence thus meets real relationships and social reality. Current topics such as the “Me too discussion” are also integrated into the narrative. In the course of the four hundred pages the desperate fight of Charles against “his” Adam becomes more and more clear, the self-assertion of the robot owner Charles against “the thing” Adam, which is condemned again and again to failure. Who becomes object when, when subject is … that is told fluidly and with always new allusions.With the complex of themes “machine replaces man” this is amusing on the pure narrative level, on the transmission level one quickly starts to think: What if machines become the “better” people – or already are? And what, please, is this “better”?

“Machines like me”, so the ambiguous original title of the book, tells about a machine. It remains unclear whether their suffering and loved ones are real or programmed. And the novel presents people who Adam repeatedly puts in irrational and crazy situations. Miranda’s father, for example, thinks Adam is his friend at his daughter’s side and Charles is the robot. The efforts of the actual human being to prove Adam’s artificiality and his own humanity over and over again seem comical. Well, what evidence is considered valid by whom here – and by what right?

Just Read it!

An entertaining novel, loosely written, fast dialogues, surprising moments – I still can’t understand why all this was put into the early 1980s. So what – then there’s a little tutoring in English history: IRA, Falkland War and so on.

Oh yes: I won’t reveal the cliffhanger with which this triangle story ends here – that’s unfair to anyone who wants to approach the story about the trio unbiased. Just read it!

Best regards and a pleasant summer time.

Frank Wippermann

Foto: Random House Children’s Books