Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara illuminates what meritocracy does to the soul

His newest novel raises a number of troubling questions

DNA.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Toward the end of the splendid speech he delivered upon receiving the 2017 Nobel Prize in literature, novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (best known for his 1989 novel The Remains of the Day) transitioned away from narrating the major creative turning points in his career to make a point about the wider world. The shocking events of the previous year — the outcome of the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. — had led him to realize that "the era since the fall of the Berlin Wall" had been an age of "complacency" and "opportunities lost," when "enormous inequalities — of wealth and opportunity — [had] been allowed to grow, between nations and within nations."

Going further, Ishiguro spoke of trends in "science, technology, and medicine" that he saw as posing challenges continuous with the economic and social dislocations revealed by recent political developments. "New genetic technologies — such as the gene-editing technique CRISPR — and advances in Artificial Intelligence and robotics will bring us amazing, life-saving benefits," he suggested. But they "may also create savage meritocracies that resemble apartheid, and massive unemployment, including to those in the current professional elites."

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