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T H I S W E E K

No. 6307

February 16 2024

the-tls.co.uk

UK £4.50 | USA $8.99

T H E T I M E S L I T E R A R Y S U P P L E M E N T

Michael Wooldridge Thinking AI | Margaret Drabble London l iterary consequences Toby Lichtig A new play in the great tradition | Miranda France Household terrors

One large step Richard Lea on making space fit for humanity

Scott E . Parazynski on the Space Shuttle Atlantis mission STS-86, 1997 © Space Frontiers/ Archive Photos/ Hulton Archive/Gett y Images

In this issue

Do androids dream of electric sheep, asks the title of Philip K. Dick’s influential novel. Dick’s protagonist, Rick Deckard – who makes a living hunting down fugitive androids for the San Fran- cisco police department – in fact owns a black-faced electronic sheep. The flesh-and-blood variety have become a rarity on a planet devastated by war. Real sheep reading this column, however, can go back to safely grazing: our lead reviewer, Michael Wool- dridge, thinks that “AI in the physical world … hasn’t progressed”. The latest ChatGPT can critique John Rawls’s theory of justice and itemize the causes of the French Revolution, but, says Wooldridge in his assessment of Max Bennett’s A Brief History of Intelligence and George Musser’s Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation, “we aren’t anywhere close to having AI tools that can tidy our home and clear the dinner table and load the dishwasher”. Do scientists have their priorities right, dare one ask? More seriously, we seem to be no nearer to answering “the hard problem” formulated by the philosopher David Chalmers – what is human consciousness? If they can’t crack the code of human sentience, how can scientists replicate it in machines?

We probably won’t love androids even if the scientists accomplish that task. Tim Peake’s Space, reviewed by Richard Lea, reminds us that astronauts refused to cede their place in space exploration to robots. The triumph of the human spirit? Maybe. The first Moon landing was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. But not, initially, for womankind. Loren Grush’s The Six reminds us that the female deputy director of Nasa’s equal opportunities office, Ruth Harris, got the sack in 1973 for pointing out that the three females in space had been “Arabella and Anita – both spiders ... [and] Miss Baker – a monkey”. Attitudes change slowly. In her Afterthoughts column Regina Rini writes about the development of healthy laboratory cultured meat as a substitute for animals. Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican governor, favours banning it: “We’re not going to do that fake meat. Like, that doesn’t work”.

What with AI, the internet of things and the Chinese threat to seize control of our fridges, home life has become a bit scary. The war correspondent Lara Pawson looks with terror on domestic appliances in Spent Light, a book of associations prompted by objects she owns and encounters. The gas rings of her cooker recall the horrors of the concentration camps and the words REHEAT DEFROST CANCEL on the toaster suggest a “synopsis of the anthropocene” – the climate warming apocalypse cometh.

MARTIN IVENS

Editor

Find us on www.the-tls.co.uk Times Literary Supplement

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2

3 SCIENCE

MICHAEL WOOLDRIDGE

RICHARD LEA

A Brief History of Intelligence – Why the evolution of the brain holds the key to the future of AI Max Bennett. Putting Ourselves Back in the Equation – Why physicists are studying human consciousness and AI to unravel the mysteries of the universe George Musser Space – The human story Tim Peake. The Six – The untold story of America’s first women astronauts Loren Grush

6 LETTERS TO THE

EDITOR

7 COMMENTARY

8 HISTORY

MARGARET DRABBLE

Windmills around Haworth, The Royal Society of Literature, Singing Horace, etc

Districts and circles – A literary game of consequences remembered

FERNANDO CERVANTES We, the King – Creating royal legislation in the sixteenth-century

Spanish New World Adrian Masters. Sepúlveda on the Spanish Invasion of the Americas – Defending empire, debating Las Casas; Edited and translated by Luke Glanville, David Lupher and Maya Feile Tomes

9 LETTERS

10 POETRY

12 MEMOIRS

14 ARTS

DAVID GALLAGHER

Las cartas del boom Julio Cortázar, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa; Edited by Carlos Aguirre et al

TIMOTHY CHESTERS SEBASTIAN DOWS-MILLER Selected Poems Joachim du Bellay and Pierre de Ronsard; Translated by Anthony Mortimer The Medieval French Ovide Moralisé – An English translation

K. Sarah-Jane Murray and Matthieu Boyd

MIRANDA FRANCE

Spent Light Lara Pawson

LAURA TUNBRIDGE TOBY LICHTIG

Strijkkwartet Biënnale Amsterdam (Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam) Till the Stars Come Down Beth Steel (National Theatre, London)

16 FICTION

GEORGE BERRIDGE KYLE WYATT MUIREANN MAGUIRE NATASHA RANDALL

Float Up, Sing Down Laird Hunt Fourteen Days – A collaborative novel Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston, editors The Body of the Soul Ludmila Ulitskaya; Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky Hard by a Great Forest Leo Vardiashvili

18 LITERARY CRITICISM MIN WILD

DEVONEY LOOSER

Daniel Defoe in Context Albert J. Rivero and George Justice, editors Gone Girls, 1684–1901 – Flights of feminist resistance in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British novel Nora Gilbert

20 BIOGRAPHY

NICHOLAS MURRAY RAMACHANDRA GUHA Edward Marsh – A life of poets, painters and players Sharon Mather Mirrors of Greatness – Churchill and the leaders who shaped him David Reynolds

22 RELIGION

MADOC CAIRNS

GUY STAGG

American Idolatry – How Christian nationalism betrays the Gospel and threatens the Church Andrew L. Whitehead. The Church of Saint Thomas Paine – A religious history of American secularism Leigh Eric Schmidt. Making Catholic America – Religious nationalism in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era William S. Cossen Cloistered – My years as a nun Catherine Coldstream

24 IN BRIEF

26 ESSAYS

27 AFTERTHOUGHTS

ANNA ASLANYAN LUCY SCHOLES

REGINA RINI

Hyde Park James Shirley, etc

The Unforgivable Cristina Campo; Translated by Alex Andriesse The Long-Winded Lady Maeve Brennan

Cell culture wars – The symbolism of real meat

28 NB

M. C.

Stephen James Joyce’s ghost, Collinge & Clark’s customers, Ollie Harrington’s cartoons, Byron’s bicentenary

Editor MARTIN IVENS (editor@the-tls.co.uk) Deputy Editor ROBERT POTTS (robert.potts@the-tls.co.uk) Associate Editor CATHARINE MORRIS (catharine.morris@the-tls.co.uk) Assistant to the Editor LISA TARLING (lisa.tarling@the-tls.co.uk) Editorial enquiries (queries@the-tls.co.uk) Managing Director JAMES MACMANUS (deborah.keegan@news.co.uk) Advertising Manager JONATHAN DRUMMOND (jonathan.drummond@the-tls.co.uk)

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FEBRUARY 16, 2024

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