Frankenstein Commentary

Frankenstein of the Future Alisa Burns
October 2002

Over two centuries ago, Mary Shelley created a gruesome tale of the horrific ramifications that result when man over steps his bounds and manipulates nature. In her classic tale, Frankenstein, Shelley weaves together the terrifying implications of a young scientist playing God and creating life, only to be haunted for the duration of his life by the monster of his own sordid creation. Reading Shelley in the context of present technologically advanced times, her tale of monstrous creation provides a very gruesome caution. For today, it is not merely a human being the sciences are lusting blindly to bring to life, as was the deranged quest of Victor Frankenstein, but rather to generate something potentially even more dangerous and horrifying with implications that could endanger the entire world and human population.

Few things are more powerful than the human mind or human intelligence. This ability to think, learn and process complex thoughts has been the driving force that has allowed for the immense growth of human culture and society, without which it is doubtful we would have ever had the capacity to evolve from our basic animal existence. As fantastic as this quality may be, our intellectual growth has not always spawned ideas that produce sound and safe results. Victor Frankenstein, although a fictitious character, provides a superb example of the vast potentiality of human intelligence and the morbid destruction that it can create. For very real examples, one need only read the headlines of the newspaper to find a multitude of malicious and perverse atrocities that occur each day due to the human mind and “intelligence” gone haywire. This is why, in light of today, with technology gaining greater and greater power, we must really think about what we are doing when we are trying to give this capacity of intelligence to machines. For the creation of Artificial Intelligence could easily open a Pandora’s box of monstrosities that could very well haunt and control us, just as Victor did when he gave life to his monster.

The idea of Artificial Intelligence began as a mere philosophical idea, simply a puzzle that provided food for thought for curious minds. In the 1940’s, however, with the invention of the first computers, the notion then had the means to transcend simple abstract speculation and became a rather alluring potential actuality and goal in the technological community. It was not until the 1950’s, however, that the link between human intelligence and machines was really observed spawning a technological boom that would precipitate to immense proportions, entirely reshaping our daily lives. Today, “Researchers are creating systems which can mimic human thought, understand speech, beat the best human chess player, and countless other feats never before possible” (The History of AI 1). The rapid fervor to which the researchers latched on to the further development of this infant technology, coincides eerily to that of the intense desire Shelley portrayed in Victor as he literally emptied his entire soul and being into his obsession of creating life. As Victor so splendidly illustrates a quest of this sort and in this manner is blinding and for this reason scarily dangerous. For just as Victor stood dumbfounded and revolted when he looked upon his “success”, we could very well be left with the same awestruck horror when our intelligent machines turn out to be monsters too and we are incapable to stop them and fall entirely vulnerable to their control.

Over the last fifty years we have experienced this dream becoming a reality and “smart” machines have been integrated into nearly ever facet of our daily lives, already forming a relationship of potentially hazardous dependence. We want our color TVs, P.C.s, and pocket planners and bedazzled by what they have to offer we want more. The “smarter” the machine, it seems, the less we as humans have to do. They make life simple and naively we seem to maintain that we are master over this immense power, when daily the role is shifting as we become more and more attached to the perks technology seems to offer. Once again hauntingly parallel to Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor’s dependence on and obsession with his creation only seemed to increase as he came closer to completion. This dependence only further striped him of any rationality as his sole focus was lost on that of his creation, no longer seeing the cost he would truly have to pay for it.

The most horrifying ramification perhaps is that these machines that we are so blindly giving “life” to not only think for themselves, but are also indicating the ability to learn. This gives raise to a multitude of potential disasters and questions, such as, “will machines learn that being rich and successful is a good thing, then rage war against economic powers andĀŠpeople?” (Applications 1). Just as the Frankenstein monster learned and was thus a much greater and real threat to Victor, one can hardly say it is worth the risk when this is in fact becoming a terrifying reality. The recent film The Matrix centers on just this potential horror. In the film, Artificial Intelligence has grown to such an immense power that it actually has the capacity to take over the human population, turning them into disillusioned batteries to fuel the technology’s sordid existence. The sickening potentiality this film has to offer is enough to make one at least a little weary of what we are really doing. Unfortunately, just as no one could stop Victor, it seems there is little that will bring an end to the continuing advancements of technology even in light of the multitude of potential horrors it could very well bring to life.

“AI are like children that need to be taught to be kind, well mannered and intelligent. If they are to make intelligent decisions they should be wise” (Applications 1). The problem clearly arises; as to who is to be the parent of these potentially dangerous “children” who will have the ability to accomplish feats that human beings are not even capable of. Can we even say we know how to raise our own human children when the acts of children seem to only be gaining more destruction and violent rebellion? And further whom can we really trust to carry out these lessons? One need only remember history to discover that humans have manipulated power throughout time for personal and often malicious motives. What are we to do to prevent these childish minds of AI from being corrupted by those individuals who desire to manipulate them to their own desires, especially when we are integrating AI into weapons that could have the most disastrous effect upon the entire world if power were to be placed in the wrong hands. Or what if the “AI children” simply decide to rebel because they want to?

Clearly, the potential for disaster is very real when we are taking the power of our minds and placing it into machines that have the ability to act in ways that exceed our own abilities. We are blinded by the seemingly beneficial qualities of this growing technology, naively becoming more and more dependent upon this very powerful creation. One need only remember the gruesome tale Shelley brought forth in Frankenstein to realize the horrendous mistake we could very well be making. Just as Victor realized too late that he had given life to a true monster, our world could suffer the same fate as we watch our “AI children” manifest into monsters that we no longer have control of.

Works Cited

ThinkQuest. Applications: Essays on the use of AI. (7 Oct. 2002).

ThinkQuest. The History of AI. (7 Oct. 2002).

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