I read Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” in my senior year of high school, and I loved it. It was electrifying, terrifying and thought-provoking. I was certainly glad to have read it when it came up on the AP Literature exam that spring, which is probably part of the reason I passed the exam.
But now that I’m into my college years, “Frankenstein,” now at its 200th anniversary, becomes more and more fascinating. I no longer view it as just a stalwart of horror or literature. Rather, it serves as a grim reminder of human limitations and the dangers of unfettered science.
Consider artificial intelligence (AI), a machine with not just the ability to think like a human, but to out-learn and out-think the best of us is concerning on its own. Think of a machine that can teach itself. Scientists around the world are moving full-steam ahead to such a creation. Do I think we’ll have a “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” scenario? Not necessarily.
We may not be at a “Terminator” level, but that does’t eliminate the threat. But, just as Dr. Frankenstein learned, we had better not create an autonomous entity more powerful than we are. Elon Musk himself finds AI to be one of the main threats posed to mankind.
Another field worth considering is genetics. Medicine has greatly benefited from the study of genes. We’ve been able to produce more nutritious crops like golden rice; we’ve been able to understand diseases better and more wholly. In theory, we could create a “super-human” by gathering all the best genes together into one person. But is that such a good idea? I dare say not.
The motion picture “GATTACA,” titled to reference a genetic code, displays the ethical concerns in which we are able to engineer a perfect human. How do we consider justice? How can we say we’ve had a fair game (in say football) when one team is “natural” while the other is genetically engineered? Extend that logic to other fields like education, and all of a sudden, our understanding of what constitutes fairness or justice is warped.
The “perfect” human may be in the distant future, but another fact of genetic research is part of our current society: genetic patents. Companies like Monsanto are already patenting the genetic code of their crops. Other companies own the code for specific human genes. This fact is not entirely true. The Supreme Court ruled companies cannot own naturally occurring genetic codes, but artificial ones are fair game.
It’s entirely conceivable that companies may own the genetic code of human beings. If they created an artificial gene, one to increase intelligence, for example, then not only does that company own part of that person, but now they, in a way, own that person’s success as well.
Science is great. I love it. But we must be careful not to put on blinders and lose our ethical or moral side. Just because we can do something, scientifically, does not mean we should.
It takes philosophy and other humanities to guide our science, and “Frankenstein” is a great place to start. While I don’t fear a monster under my bed, I do fear a version of Frankenstein, one where we forget that we aren’t gods and learn it the hard way.