This is such a brilliant and timely little novel. It touches on so many important ethical questions about AI/robots: care robots, AI replacing jobs, robots/AI as human-like species deserving rights versus being like appliances, philosophy of mind, and more. I’m excited to talk to my students at Olin about this book. It’s our summer reading for incoming first years.
Ishiguro’s “Klara” is an artificial friend (AF). She is a care robot (like the many, notably from Japan, that are developed to be companions to humans and help them with social-emotional health). Her objective is to ensure the child she is acquired for is not lonely. She believes the worst thing a human can be is lonely. Her child Josie is a little sick and lives far away from others. The novel covers Klara’s efforts to serve Josie well.
The novel starts in the store where Klara is for sale. She is our narrator. When we meet her, she is starting to form assumptions about the world. Her observational skills are unusually good for an AF, but her narrative is of course flawed both because of the limits of her technology (cleverly illustrated by Ishiguro) and the limits of her experience.
Ishiguro is not the first to offer a first person perspective to an AI. Many fine examples, especially the Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy beginning with Ancillary Justice, come to mind. What I love about Klara and the Sun is that it’s a bildungsroman—one of my favorite genres—for a young robot. This allows us to explore some of the key ethical questions from a unique perspective and provides for the eponymous plot line written stylistically as a fusion of science fiction and realism.
The book is a fast read, filled with clever imagery and symbolism, which open and close the narrative elegantly. I would read this even if I didn’t have to, and I recommend that you do too.