Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource/© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/SIAE, Rome
Giorgio de Chirico: The Soothsayer’s Recompense, 1913

You ask how was it for me. To answer I must go back some fifty years to a warm Friday midnight and the moment when I whispered with utmost delicacy into the ear of my new friend the indelicate question. I was lying beneath her and she was in all her glory, naked but for a studded choker of lapis lazuli and gold. Even in the amber light of a bedside lamp, her skin gleamed white. Her eyes were closed as she swayed above me, her lips, minimally parted, allowed a glint of beautiful teeth. Her right hand rested lovingly on my left shoulder. She smelled faintly, not of perfume but of sandalwood soap. Those bars, imprinted with an ancient sailing ship and folded in tissue within a long rectangular box of balsa, were once mine. She had taken to them the moment she first entered my bathroom. Why should I mind?

As we came to a lull in our lovemaking and she leaned forward, I put my lips close to her ear lobe and licking it, speaking into a headwind of sensual pleasure that seemed to snatch the words from my mouth, said, “Dearest, I know I shouldn’t, but I have to ask you this. I don’t claim any right to know, of course, but after these two wonderful weeks…I feel…darling, Jenny…forgive me, I love you and always will…but please tell me the truth. Are you real?”

Before I describe her reaction, I should explain for the benefit of younger readers how things stood at that particular moment. We’d been through a social revolution whose outcomes now are entirely taken for granted. The young, I’ve noticed, tend to act as though nothing has happened. They have little or no sense of history. The miracles worked by previous generations—they’re as ordinary as life itself. But as everyone who takes an interest should know, the entire debate began innumerable centuries before, with Plato perhaps, or with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, or the speculations of Alan Turing, or when, at the dawn of the third millennium, a computer program, learning from its own mistakes by way of deep neural networks and “self-play,” defeated a Grandmaster at the ancient Chinese game of Go. Or, most significantly, when the first android became pregnant by a human and the first viable carbon-silicon baby was born. Only three streets away from my apartment, in a delightful little square lined with cafés and shaded by pollarded plane trees, there’s a statue in Molly’s honor. You would think that there was nothing unusual in such a monument. Except that a pretty girl of eight in T-shirt and jeans, hands on hips, stands boldly before us on a plinth in…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. You may also need to link your website account to your subscription, which you can do here.