Lifted By the Sun

Ananya VermaJune 3, 2024AI and the Future of KnowledgeMedia

Sometimes in life, individuals need to go beyond what they were originally programmed for . . .

Klara and the Sun is an extraordinary novel written with profound poetic descriptions that nudge one to pick up their paintbrush and create unique imagery of what they read. I interpreted my favorite scene as following:

As the blinds were lifted from the windows, unleashing the eloquent abundance of the Sun, hope dawned upon Josie’s face. The Sun’s nourishment helped loosen the asphyxiating fear that had gripped the room and Klara emerged as an allegory from the artificial world, portraying unparalleled maturity and the core belief on which the foundation of humanity is built: compassion and love.

Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, takes readers on a sci-fi journey in this stirring story, and offers a glimpse into a future awaiting humanity: the world of artificial intelligence. Through the pages of his brilliant writing, you witness a personality deconstructed then flawlessly reassembled and experience the subtle, yet contrasting, shades of pain, helplessness, and despondency, which melt away with deep faith, happiness, and unrelenting hope. Klara and the Sun is a splendidly crafted novel. This story is about the strong bond between a teenager, Josie, who is a “lifted child” (genetically altered to achieve high capabilities), and her Artificial Friend (AF) Klara.

It all begins with Klara at a store where they sell AFs of different versions and models. Each AF craves sunshine more than anything. Since they are solar-powered, they feel energized by the sun’s presence, especially Klara. The reader learns that every detail piques her interest and she notices the smallest of things, which is what leads her to become Josie’s extraordinary AF. Klara and the Sun is a narrative that comprises various perspectives, each one as unique and as intriguing as the next. There are moments of silence and emptiness, when you can hear the hushed emotions that haunt a girl, her mother, father, her best friend, and her AF.

The plot of the book compels the reader to draw parallels with the contemporary discussion around AI and the numerous possibilities enabled by this technology. For instance, Elon Musk’s Neuralink startup developed a chip implant that allows one to perform an action by merely thinking! It is quite likely that the level of artificial thinking discussed in this book will be brought to life in a few short years.

Another favorite part of the story for me is when Ishiguro explains the intricate and fragile design of the human heart. This scene also reflects the determination and care Klara has for Josie. Klara mentions that Josie’s heart might be the “hardest part to learn” and compares it to a house with many rooms.

Klara is asked: “Suppose you stepped into one of those rooms, and discovered another room within it…rooms within rooms within rooms. Isn’t that how it might be, trying to learn Josie’s heart? No matter how long you wandered through those rooms, wouldn’t there always be others you’d not yet entered?”

Klara replies: “A human heart is bound to be complex. But it must be limited . . . there’ll be an end to what there is to learn. Josie’s heart may well resemble a strange house with rooms inside rooms. But if this were the best way to save Josie, then I’d do my utmost.” This excerpt from the novel made me smile. It was so beautiful to read that a humanoid could care so much and be so willing to do everything in her capacity to save her friend.

Ishiguro wrote this book sometime during the pandemic years. He imagines children learning online on “oblongs” (tablets of the future), combating loneliness and isolation. Klara and the Sun sheds light on how children who are home schooled may grow up socially awkward, inexperienced with being in a social environment, like Josie. The setting painted by Ishiguro might just become our future. Another riveting idea in the novel was that of “lifting” children, when rich, high-ranking families use technology to alter the child’s genetic makeup, enhancing their capabilities and increasing their chances of success in life.

Ishiguro leaves so many questions lingering in the reader’s mind. When I read the last page and closed the book, I was torn between different viewpoints and in complete awe of his captivating style of writing. I kept wondering if there can really be a technology that could continue the life of a person even after death? Will the line dividing the artificial and living realm be blurred? Will people really choose to live a life where AI can replace a lost loved one?

There is a very interesting hypothesis regarding behavioral science called the “Prospect Theory,” a theory from the field of human psychology, which proposes that people would choose certainty or a guarantee of achievements and good results over the possibility and risk of losses. This theory is present in the field of finances and is very applicable, but is it justified to opt for benefits of guaranteed achievements, though the risk may be gambling on the life of a human being?

I give Klara and the Sun a rating of 4.5 stars. I felt there were many crucial questions unanswered or explored only superficially. Nevertheless, Ishiguro leaves a very poignant and powerful message. It is a moral quandary, a masterpiece which is not to be devoured in one go but savored and relished at a slow pace. If you are curious about the world behind the curtains of time, this book is a must-read!

Ananya Verma is a 14-year-old from India. She loves to write and express herself through stories and poems. She also composes songs.