This year marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s brilliant novel, Frankenstein. So it’s a good time to ask: can technologies be monstrous? Can human beings create devices and platforms that run beyond our intentions and out of our control? What dangerous technologies may be lurking on the horizon?
What Is It
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein raises powerful questions about the responsibilities of scientists to consider the impact of their inventions on the world. Are these questions as relevant now as they were 200 years ago? What insights, if any, should today’s technologists and disrupters glean from Shelley's story? What does it mean to take responsibility for one’s scientific or technological innovations? And what role should university educators play in ensuring that no new monsters are unleashed onto the world? Josh and Ken have a monstrously fun conversation with Persis Drell, Provost and former Dean of Engineering from Stanford University.
This program was recorded live on the Stanford campus as part of the university's Frankenstein@200 project.
As part of Stanford’s “Frankenstein at 200” project, Ken and Josh discuss the present and future of technologies, wondering how these advancements can be prevented from turning monstrous. Josh argues that, throughout history, people have feared the changes technology will bring but nothing terrible ever comes to pass, citing the printing press and the mechanized loom as examples. Ken points out that Chernobyl and Fukushima certainly illustrate the monstrous nature of technologies.
The hosts welcome Persis Drell, former Dean of the Stanford School of Engineering and current Provost of Stanford. Persis categorizes herself as an optimist, choosing to believe in the power of technology to do good. Ken isn’t so optimistic and argues that the inherent nature of capitalism makes it difficult to produce technology with social responsibility. Persis offers focusing on leadership in tech as a way to address potentially monstrous technologies.
In the final segment, an audience member asks Persis how to best balance the humanities and engineering in education, as well as how to be optimistic in the face of powerful AIs. Persis shares what she thinks is the best type of education and encourages everyone to hold onto their optimism even in the face of challenges.
Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 7:42): Liza Veale chats with Dylan Hendricks from the Institute for the Future about how to think about the reality of Black Mirror technologies. Hendricks examines the possibilities of technology explored on the dark sci-fi TV show.
60-Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:16): Ian Shoales discusses how the technologies of today become the monsters of tomorrow.