'An Ocean of Thought': AI, Robots, and Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me and People Like You (2019)

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


This article examines popular images of robots, machines and replicants in sci-fi literature and cinema to indicate shifts in current popular representations due to advances in genetically applied science and Artificial Intelligence (AI). The new roles of robots in the sphere of health (e.g., assisted robotics and robotic) as carers and social companions, and the growing interest in human-robot interactions (HRI) provides a context for the representation of Ian McEwan’s dystopian social vision in Machines Like Me: People Like You (2019) of a failed cybernetic revolution. The article examines McEwan’s use of images and symbols from a range of contexts to indicate the confusion surrounding the introduction of machines into society that is unprepared for such levels of intimacy in automation. The social questions that the novel poses about the increased use of robots in many spheres of life such as the impact on the labour market, and ethical issues such as the assignment of moral status and rights of artificial personhood are also discussed in terms of the AI future
Original languageEnglish
JournalSymbolism: An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 22 May 2020

Bibliographical note

Janet M. Wilson is Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Northampton, UK. Her research focuses mainly on the postcolonial and diaspora writing of Australia and New Zealand, but she has also written on topics like refugee writing, precarity, religious fundamentalism, right wing rhetoric, post 9/11 fiction, and the global novel. She is Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded Diaspora Screen Media Network, Vice Chair of the Katherine Mansfield Society and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing.


  • AI
  • Ian McEwan
  • Frankenstein
  • human-robot-interaction
  • dystopian fiction
  • synthetic human
  • humanoid
  • Alan Turing
  • cybernetic revolution


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