From the eyes of an optimistic scientist fixed on discovery and the promise of a wonders beyond comprehension, the future holds the possibilities of beautiful and fantastic technologies with the power to shape our lives for the betterment of humanity. In Bill Joy’s Essay, “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us,” Joy argues that scientific discovery, contrary to this previous statement, holds the possibility for terrible consequences that may ultimately lead to the destruction of our planet or species. Marry Shelley’s acclaimed novel, Frankenstein, offers insight to the latter argument by hinting that technologies obtained without discipline may lead to destructive outcomes through the narrative of Victor’s education and experiments. While still a wonderful work of literature, Shelley’s novel exaggerates the fear of her time and no longer accurately portrays the possibilities of scientific discovery of the present and future.
Joy presents a number of fears of a more modern era in which nuclear proliferation, genetic engineering, nanofabrication and robotics dominate the field of terror. Of these grossly exaggerated fears, western society has yet to see the negative backlashes of these technologies in the manner that Joy presents them. Possibly the oldest of Joy’s modern set of technological fears, nuclear arms have yet to annihilate the world as we know it after over 50 years of the “looming threat.” More recently still, transposons from genetically engineer corn still haven’t turned the American public into hideous mutated masses of functionless flesh and bone. The truth about these subjects remains true to this day that just because there is a negative potential to some technology, this may not be the probable outcome. Nuclear technology, while possessing the power for great destruction, also has the potential to provide the energy worldwide to eliminate global use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels and lower harmful carbon emissions that are causing global climate change.
Having grown up during a period of industrial revolution, Shelley experienced a vast amount of technological change in her lifetime, which understandably raised many fears of undesirable outcomes from the new and yet-to-be-proven technologies of her time. To this degree, Shelley expresses her fears in the form of unproven and undisciplined discovery in the biological sciences that leads to the creation of a grotesque creature with the potential for terrible actions such as murder. Victor’s stubborn approach to the sciences is founded in “old” and “disproven” theories of natural philosophy, which leads to an unethical discovery without proper restraint. This idea of unethical and dangerous research no longer holds as much merit in today’s society with the many restraints and barriers to what research is done; most notable of these is the power of money to restrict what is considered valuable technology to research and develop. For these reasons, it is unrealistic to believe that technology will stray toward anything but commercially prosperous or beneficial discoveries.
While the fears of new and unproven technologies will remain as long as our society presses forward in the name of science, the negative effects of such technologies predicted by Shelly and Joy have yet to be seen. Technology is going to advance and evolve in the coming centuries whether we take an active role in it or sit back in fear. While a sentient robot takeover may be in the realm of possibility for some, I prefer to look at proven technologies such as my docile, genetically-engineered glowing fish and hold these as a testament to the true nature of these “dangerous” technologies.