Monstrous Technologies?

Sunday, November 1, 2020
First Aired: 
Sunday, April 8, 2018

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.

Listening Notes

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.



Comments (1)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, March 22, 2018 -- 11:20 AM

I mentioned, in a comment on

I mentioned, in a comment on another post concerning youth issues, that I was reading Rachael Carson's SILENT SPRING. Now, this is only somewhat related to monstrous technology, but it fits --in that 'somewhat related' way. (I have commented on the Shelly/Frankenstein issues before...) Thinking about the totality of circumstances surrounding the technology matter (yesterday and today), I am sort of glad I did not read Carson's fine book when I was much younger.

Why? Well, it paints a grim picture of a futurity tainted by the effects of chemical warfare on insects and other pests, showing how beneficial birds, fish, mammals,insects, worms and plants were being devastated by such things as heptachlor; DDT; DDE; aldrin dieldrin and other poisons. The picture was pretty awful and I am certain I would have found it distressing as an idealistic teenager. Some of Carson's fears were real enough, and her imagery (mostly based on fact) is enthralling in its gruesome way. But, even so, and even with the extinctions which may have occurred, life on earth has yet found a way.

We still have Eagles, albeit fewer than we might like. We still have Robins, Cardinals, Salmon, Albatross, Earthworms and Dutch Elm disease. We should thank the late Ms. Carson for her war on chemicals. Big Chemical hated her and all she stood for. But, through persistence, and facing her own imminent death (from metastatic breast cancer) she wrote a book that made a difference. Are chemicals any 'safer' now? Probably not much, but, hey, we are still here and monstrous technology has not won. So far, so good...