In the dark and rainy summer of 1818, Mary Shelley sat down to write Frankenstein, the story of a man whose obsessions took him too far in his attempt to play God and, as a result, created a dangerous and tragic creature. His masterpiece is widely hailed as one of the most influential works of science fiction and horror, if not the starting point of those genres as we know them today. His work has been adapted and reimagined countless times, and his themes of unchecked ambition, dangerously advanced technology, and the hubris of humanity are still common in modern science fiction. Today, that story is still told, but it doesn’t always take the form of a narrative or a reboot.
Today’s Frankenstein monsters are a bit different from Shelley’s concept. They have no stitches on the greenish gray faces; instead, they’re impossibly crisp but empty behind the eyes, creating an eerie valley effect that leaves viewers uneasy. Instead of moaning, their speech freezes robotically. In today’s science fiction, androids are rarely trusted and often feared – but why? The answer to this question can be found by turning to the godmother of the genre.
Today, the phrase “Frankenstein’s monster” is frequently used to describe a fusion that is unnatural, hideous, or unpleasant in some way – and it’s an apt descriptor for such a phenomenon. The original monster was made from a collection of body parts, stitched together and fused together in ways they never should have been. However, in the original novel, he is more than just a creature. His physical form isn’t what makes him a monster; his DIY nature isn’t what makes him scary. Instead, it is Doctor Frankenstein’s own pride that is the enemy. He creates a Creature that goes out into the world and, when repelled and feared by mankind, swears revenge on the man who gave him a pain-filled existence. The Creature’s intelligence and superhuman strength make her uncontrollable and dangerous. Sound familiar?
Just as science and technology advanced rapidly at the start of the 19th century, they continue to do so today. And just Mary Shelley and her contemporaries had their reservations about new technology, so do we now. As medical and anatomical knowledge progressed, the Britons of 1818 feared doctors who would play God. What would happen if these sciences were taken to extremes? What would be the consequences of trying to artificially create a living being? What would happen if this knowledge, which could do so much good, fell into the hands of those who are evil, irresponsible or over-ambitious? Shelley explored these questions and in doing so created a genre in which other writers explored similar questions.
Now, as artificial intelligence and robotics improve to a degree Shelley could not have imagined, we have our own concerns about a society where mechanical beings with complex AI are commonplace – and the science fiction explores them. Will those with unsavory intentions use technology to deceive, trick or defraud others? Will a programmable soldier prove deadlier than a human could ever be? Two hundred years after Shelley’s masterpiece, we’re still worried about artificial life and lab-created humans. And our worries are remarkably similar.
Modern sci-fi media features many androids, but two recent series have shown the clearest similarities to Frankenstein in their depiction of advanced robotics: the first season of Star Trek: Picardand the Ridley Scott series Raised by wolves.
Star Trek: Picard
The first season of picard explored this concept through the prism of an ancient prophecy guarded by the Romulan secret society of the Zhat Vash, a prophecy that said synthetic life was destroying all sentient organic life forms. Towards the end of the series, this prophecy becomes dangerously close to self-fulfilling. Soji, a fully sentient android accompanied by Picard himself, arrives on Coppelius, the planet where she was created. She, along with the other androids on the planet, learns the truth behind the ancient message: it is not a warning, as Zhat Vash thought, but an offer, sent by synthetic beings on a distant world, to protect their fellow human beings. androids. The people of Coppelius then plan to summon these synthetic beings, who will destroy anyone who threatens the lives of the androids. To prevent the Zhat Vash from destroying all sentient androids, the people of Coppelius plan to wipe out all organic life in the universe.
Soji and her brothers weren’t created evil; they were not created to harm others. But when taken to extremes, they are ready to commit genocide, just as Frankenstein’s creature murdered several people in his quest for revenge. The androids’ creator, Soong, expresses his guilt when he finds out about his creations’ scheme, as he never imagined they would collude or resort to underhanded measures like they did in an attempt to achieve their plan.
Raised by wolves
Ridley Scott’s latest series also explores the idea that androids behave in ways their creators never intended, to the danger and detriment of the humans around them. Mother, a sentient android created by Earth’s greatest scientists, was originally a necromancer, a weapon of mass destruction. She was reprogrammed by a man named Campion Sturges to act as a caregiver. Sturges, unlike Victor Frankenstein, was not overcome by obsessive ambition; neither, as star trekSoong and Maddox’s android creators were driven by avid curiosity. Instead, his actions are the product of well-meaning desperation. He had seen his world torn apart by war and had reprogrammed Mother in hopes of creating a new one free from conflict.
Of course, this is far from what is actually happening. Due to the combined nature of her original function and her new programming, Mother becomes deadly whenever her children are in danger. She regularly erases those who would threaten her family. At base, she’s a fiercely protective parent – but the fact that she’s a necromancer makes that a dangerous quality. Much like Frankenstein’s creature, she seeks revenge on those who have harmed her or those close to her, using the powers bestowed upon her by humans to exact that revenge.
The mother is not the only example in Raised by wolves Is; Vrille is perhaps an even closer parallel. She was programmed solely for the comfort of her “mother”, Decima, to act as a replica of the daughter Decima had lost to suicide. But after being abused and disfigured, condemned to an existence of pain and a horrific appearance, Vrille turned against humanity, killing her “mother” and slaughtering her companions in one of the most horrific scenes in the world. second season of the series.
Just as Mary Shelley did in Frankenstein, science fiction writers continue to ask questions and speculate about the implications of technological advances. And sometimes those speculations can turn dark, as certain technologies have troubling possible applications. As artificial intelligence, robotics and other scientific fields continue to advance, their potential will only grow – both to improve human lives and to endanger them.
The tale of scientists creating artificial beings, and their creations backfiring spectacularly, has been around since the beginning of science fiction – and yet it doesn’t feel tired or played. Different creators approach the subject from different angles, presenting us with a wide range of stories to ponder. Frankenstein’s fable will likely continue to evolve and change, but as long as humans continue to explore potential ways to create life, science fiction will be there to question, ponder, and predict good and bad consequences.
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