Frankenstein’s Legacy Robots, Post-Humans, and the Technological Singularity
Frankenquiz Who is Frankenstein? How old is Victor? What is used to make the creature? What’s a human being?
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Written in 1816, published at the end of 1817 and underwent five revisions. Well-received and popular. Lack of science though likely influenced by Industrial Revolution and Erasmus Darwin. Origin Theories: Ghost story contest between Mary, Percy, Lord Byron, and Claire Claremont “I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out…then show signs of life with an uneasy, half vital motion.” Anxieties on childbirth. Anxieties on childbirth. “Dream that my little baby came to life again – that it had only been cold and that we rubbed it by the fire and it lived.”
On the next Maury: I’m a teenaged mistress! Mary is the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. Marries PBS at age 19 after…. Miscarrying their first daughter at age 17 Extramarital affair Suicide of PBS’s first wife Harriet Custody battle for children
Themes Nature: Sublime and the beautiful Forbidden Knowledge Alienation and Human relationships MonstersMirroring
Victor Frankenstein: Freak AND Geek Obsessed genius who loses touch with family and friends. “Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world. A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me” (Shelley 82). Assembles the Monster from dead body parts he exhumes. The weird kid in biology class you don’t want as your lab partner.
It’s alive! “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs” (85). “The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart (85).”
Shelley’s Monster: Abandoned Baby Extremely intelligent, articulate and self-aware 8 feet tall, strong, fast. Driven by revenge. Self-educated Relates to Satan of “Paradise Lost” Feels the “Sorrows of Werther” Jaded by “Plutarch’s Lives,” “History of Empire.”
Monstrous Poetry and Sentience “My person was hideous, and my stature gigantic: what did this mean? Who was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them (153).” “Was, man, indeed at once so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base(144)?” “I shall no longer see the sun or stars, or feel the wind play on my cheeks. Light, feeling, and sense, will pass away; and in this condition must I find my happiness” (244). Existence critiques humanity, ushers in Post-human era.
Frankenstein’s Cousins “We’re the children of humanity that makes them our parents in a sense.” “Life has a melody. A rhythm of notes which become your existence once played in harmony with God’s plan.” “All those moments will be lost in time… like tears in the rain. Time to die.”
The Technological Singularity Proposed by UCSD’s Vernon Vinge. Technology will progress so rapidly that the future will be unrecognizable and difficult to imagine. Machines will become self- aware. Humans will eventually become a new species augmented by technology. We will become post-human. Inevitable?
Is resistance futile? Trek optimism vs Singularity dread Singularity Mankind is obsolete. Future is dark, unrecognizable. Trek Mankind outgrows greed and strives “to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” Future is hopeful.
Dichotomies: Two Roads Diverged…. World War III weapons destroy and restore mankind. Evolution Borg represent a post-human future devoid of humanity. “Human. We used to be like them. Flawed. Organic. Weak.” Borg evolve through assimilation of other species. Enterprise crew represent mankind’s highest potential. Data’s moves toward humanity, the Borg away. Geordi’s ocular implants contrasts with Borg augments. Lily vs Picard.
LAAF advice column Dear Professor Cheung, On LAAF’s two year anniversary, I find myself wondering about the meaning and direction of my life. Since I have nothing better to do, I sit around and wonder about what the future will be like for mankind. Let me tell you, it doesn’t look good. I’m afraid our quest for improvement will lead to a quest for convenience, and technology will soon invade our lives as well as our bodies. I’m scared that the future will be filled with robots enslaving humanity. What should I do? Sincerely, Lu Dite
Laaf Advice Column Dear Lu, Yes, if you put it that way, technology is advancing faster and faster these days. Sometimes it’d be great if the geniuses who make these things would let us catch our breath in between inventions. Seriously, I’m still reeling from the invention of the roomba. I don’t even know what this ipad thing does except take our money. There isn’t much we can really do about it save sabotaging machines, but that isn’t very feasible. I’d like to leave you with this thought from Carl Sagan….
“The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self- fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.” There are many dark visions of the future out there. Mary Shelley dreamed of one nearly two hundred years ago and we’re still seeing visions of dystopia. If Carl Sagan is right, we needs to stay positive. If you can think of a future where a ragtag band of humans fight a network of computers called Skynet, you can also think of a future where humans use Skynet to forecast the weather. The future doesn’t have to be filled with robot zombies. Resistance isn’t futile if it means dreaming of a better tomorrow. Prof. Cheung