The title of Tanuj Solanki’s book, The Machine is Learning suggests that this could be a book about a dystopian world commandeered by machines. It seems to connote a scenario in which the machines programmed by humans have started learning by themselves and are quietly marching forward to take control of the world. However, contrary to expectations, it is not a science fiction novel about the future world but one that is rooted firmly in the present where machines are indeed trying to take over the livelihoods of people as we are seeing it happening in present times.
The narrator of the story, Saransh who has developed an app that could lead to many branch level employees losing their jobs has the additional responsibility of interviewing the very people whose employment is at stake. As Saransh starts the investigation along with his colleague Mitesh, he begins to see the likely repercussions of his actions and the human cost of having a machine do the job of hundreds. This causes a sense of unease inside him. On the other hand, Mitesh seems to be enjoying the process, taking delight in the number of people who can be shown the door. At this time, Saransh meets Jyothi, a former journalist with an idealistic viewpoint who loses no chance in calling out the ethics of his actions. Caught between the cut throat attitude of Mitesh and Jyothi’s ethical concerns besides his own first hand observations about the human cost of automating processes, Saransh has to make a decision.
It is interesting to see the workings of an insurance company and how even the layout is designed to create a sanitised environment where only the flow of work matters above all else. The book explores an unusual theme that is not seen much in fiction, about the working life of corporate employees and the mind-set that drives their actions. We see that inspite of all the checks against humane considerations, emotions do come to play even inside the boardrooms where ostensibly hardnosed business decisions are taken. Solanki draws out an evocative story about how the aspirations of a vast majority of people can be crushed by the actions of a few with the blame falling on technological advancements.
Solanki’s first book Neon Noon was shortlisted for Tata Literature Live! First Book Award and his second book Diwali in Muzaffarnagar won the Sahitya Academy Yuva Puraskar in 2019. With Machine is Learning, Solanki shows that technological advancements may not serve all sections of society equally and there could be human cost which is not immediately visible.