Jacob Brogan: Before I shift­ed to writ­ing I was an aca­d­e­m­ic. And I think the two-hour mark of con­fer­ences was the point at which I fad­ed, to the extent that I was pay­ing atten­tion before. So if you’ll for­give me I’m going to try to just gross you out just a lit­tle bit, just to maybe wake you up.

Earlier this week I vis­it­ed the National Zoo here in Washington DC, where an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly patient researcher tried to show me sam­ples of a tiny nema­to­dal skin parasite—a lit­tle worm—that appears to be infect­ing an ani­mal species that was already fac­ing extinc­tion.

There are sev­er­al rea­sons why this was dif­fi­cult for me. One of them, as I point­ed out not at all humbly I’m afraid to the researcher, I have extreme­ly long eye­lash­es. I don’t know if you can see from where you are. But they’re quite lus­cious. And it’s quite dif­fi­cult because of that to lean into a micro­scope. She kept say­ing, Pull your head back. Pull your head back.” But I just real­ly want­ed to lean into this expe­ri­ence of look­ing at this par­a­site.

The oth­er prob­lem, which was prob­a­bly more press­ing, is that as as you may know if you’ve looked through a micro­scope recent­ly and are also some­one like me who bare­ly remem­bers his biol­o­gy class­es, most skin sam­ples under a micro­scope don’t actu­al­ly look like any­thing, unless you real­ly know what you’re look­ing at.

So I’m look­ing at these slides and just sort of try­ing to take it in stride and rec­og­nize that this murky pink blot that I’m look­ing at is in fact some kind of tiny worm. It’s not real­ly get­ting through to me, this worm, until the researcher, who had this very help­ful lit­tle arrow that she could move around on the slide, points out this tiny line of black dots inside what appears to be an air bub­ble. They’re minus­cule even at the micro­scop­ic scale that we’re study­ing them. But she makes it zoom in just a bit more and I can see that there are these small lit­tle balls that make up that black line.

See that?” she says. Those are worm eggs.” All of a sud­den, like that I catch myself itch­ing at my own skin. Convinced that I too am lit­er­al­ly filthy with worm eggs. Which I prob­a­bly am.

Is there any chance,” I say, that this stuff is on my skin?”

Well no, of course not. This par­tic­u­lar nema­tode is not on my skin. But think­ing back to the trou­ble with my eye­lash­es she responds, Have you ever heard about the mites that live in your eye­lash­es? They’re most­ly harm­less.”

And like that, I real­ize I’m a land­scape. I’m a habi­tat. I’m an ecosys­tem. And that means that my body is not my own. At some fun­da­men­tal lev­el, I’m not me. Thanks, sci­ence. It’s what I need­ed to know today.

Now, I’m going to ask them to roll a clip that you will at first think has noth­ing to do with nema­todes.

https://​www​.youtube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​2​_​q​5​-​M​F​u​9QU

Listen to me very care­ful­ly. Watching this scene from Terminator 2, I’m drawn to one thing in par­tic­u­lar. Not the grotesque hor­ror of Arnold par­ing away his flesh, although appar­ent­ly it was even gross­er in the orig­i­nal cut of the film. It’s not that that I’m drawn to, but rather it’s the reac­tions of the two char­ac­ters watch­ing him, Miles and Tarissa Dyson. Even before they know what’s hap­pen­ing, but after they do all the more so, they respond with a kind of out­sized hor­ror, scream­ing and writhing as if they were the ones under the knife. As if Arnold were peel­ing away the flesh from their arms.

Now you might dis­miss this, per­haps rea­son­ably, as a bit of com­i­cal over­act­ing. I’m not con­vinced, though, that that’s what we’re see­ing here. I’d sug­gest that we’re wit­ness­ing some­thing else, some­thing more like what I felt peer­ing at those nema­tode eggs under the micro­scope. What they’re see­ing as he peels away his arm isn’t hor­ri­fy­ing because it’s gross, but because it’s uncan­ny, in some­thing like the Freudian sense.

The uncan­ny,” Freud wrote in 1919, is that class of the ter­ri­fy­ing which leads back to some­thing long known to us,” some­thing once famil­iar. He’s trad­ing here on the German word for the uncan­ny, unheim­lich, which as I under­stand it means some­thing lit­er­al­ly like unhome­ly.” For Freud, unhome­ly is not the nega­tion or oppo­site of home, but that which shows us that home has always been some­thing oth­er than what we thought it was. Uncanny things are those things that estrange us from our­selves and our world, pre­cise­ly because they call us back to where we came from. Freud in oth­er words, and maybe not sur­pris­ing­ly if you know your Freud, thought that we feel some­thing is uncan­ny when it brings to mind sen­ti­ments or ideas that we’ve repressed.

While I’m not here to talk about the repressed, this is still impor­tant for our pur­pos­es today, I think. Because Freud thought it was­n’t the unknown that scared us most, but the known. And here it’s worth not­ing that the pan­el you’re about to lis­ten to is on the fear of the unknown.

Freud wrote, Some new things are fright­en­ing but not by any means all.” That is, it’s not nov­el­ty that fright­ens us, although it some­times seems to, not the new­ness of sci­ence or of tech­nol­o­gy in par­tic­u­lar. And as I learned star­ing through the micro­scope ear­li­er this week, when the new is fright­en­ing it’s most­ly because the more we learn, the more alien old things begin to seem.

This sen­ti­ment is also cen­tral I think to the sci­en­tif­ic hor­ror of a book like Frankenstein, where the quest for knowl­edge most­ly serves to teach us how much larg­er the world is than we real­ized. I see some­thing sim­i­lar at work in this scene from Terminator 2, some­thing I’m inclined to call the tech­no­log­i­cal uncan­ny. The tech­no­log­i­cal uncan­ny would be what we expe­ri­ence when new dis­cov­er­ies imbue famil­iar things with unfa­mil­iar qual­i­ties. What the Dysons, those two hor­ri­fied char­ac­ters quak­ing on the floor, are real­iz­ing in this scene is that they may not be who they think they are. Or what they think they are.

There’s a sort of sequel to this scene from from Terminator 2 in the recent film Ex Machina, where Domhnall Gleason’s char­ac­ter slices into his own arm with a razor and peers into his mouth in the mir­ror, try­ing to con­vince him­self that he is also not a robot. And that’s the trick. Once we start to real­ize how much hides beneath the sur­face of the vis­i­ble world, how many slimy things do crawl with legs upon the slimy sea,” as Mary Shelley’s beloved Samuel Taylor Coleridge puts it, we also begin to learn how lit­tle we know.

So. This is the les­son I take from this scene from Terminator 2. It’s not the strange­ness of new tech­nolo­gies that fright­ens us but the way tech­nol­o­gy threat­ens to make us strangers to our­selves. In a semi-Freudian spir­it, then, I’d like to pro­pose that where Frankenstein and its spawn are con­cerned, our fear of the unknown may real­ly be about our dis­com­fort with know­ing.

Thanks.


Ed Finn: To lead us fear­less­ly into a con­ver­sa­tion about the fear of the unknown, let me intro­duce Bina Venkataraman, a Carnegie Fellow here at New America and Director of Global Policy Iinitiatives at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Bina Venkataraman: Thank you. And I’d like to invite up our pan­el, who I’ll intro­duce once you can see their faces.

So we have here with us today Dave Guston, who is the Founding Director and a pro­fes­sor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. And Charlotte Gordon, who is the author of Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, and she’s also a dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor be com­modi­ties that Endicott College. And Annalee Newitz, who is the tech cul­ture edi­tor at Ars Technica, and the author of sev­er­al books, most recent­ly Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive A Mass Extinction.

So we have a great pan­el here. And despite the billing that this is about the fear of the unknown, in talk­ing amongst our­selves I think maybe a more apt name for what we’re going to talk about would be Fear and Loathing: from Frankenstein to the Future.” We real­ly want to explore fear writ large: fear of the unknown; fear of the known, as Jacob so apt­ly brought up; fear of the hideous and the strange; and look at how the themes of that car­ry from Frankenstein into how we think about sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy today and how we think about the future.

So Charlotte, if you would not mind kick­ing us off, as our expert on the life of Mary Shelley, what do we real­ly know about how Mary Shelley intend­ed to rep­re­sent fear in Frankenstein? What was she try­ing to say about her own fear, about the fear of oth­ers, and what can that tell us?

Charlotte Gordon: Thank you. Did you set Jacob up ahead of time?

Venkataraman: No. We talked not at all.

Gordon: That was per­fect. I think that it’s fun­ny, because Frankenstein has gone down in his­to­ry as the first nov­el of sci­ence fic­tion, it’s about sci­ence, it’s about inno­va­tion, it’s about the future. And I think anoth­er very inter­est­ing way to read Frankenstein is to see it as polit­i­cal com­men­tary and a real explo­ration of what Mary Shelley feared about what she knew. Which is why I thought Jacob’s intro­duc­tion to our pan­el was so per­fect.

And what was it that Mary Shelley knew? Well, she was born in 1797. And so if we just pause for a sec­ond and think about what it meant to be a woman in 1797, it was­n’t a lot of fun. Women could not own their own prop­er­ty. They could­n’t have mon­ey. They could not ini­ti­ate a divorce. Their chil­dren were con­sid­ered their hus­bands’. According to sort of English polit­i­cal the­o­ry and English thought, noth­ing was more dan­ger­ous and harm­ful to the king­dom than dis­or­der, and so the role of men in English soci­ety was to keep women—their daugh­ters, their sis­ters, and their wives—under con­trol. It was the respon­si­bil­i­ty of the man or the hus­band to dis­ci­pline his wife. The only rule was that the whip that he use should not be thick­er than the thumb—that’s where we get the idea of the rule of thumb.

So in many ways, you can read Frankenstein as a real explo­ration and a real con­dem­na­tion… This might be a lit­tle bit hard since we don’t have the text in front of us and you’re not my stu­dents, so I can’t brow­beat you into open­ing the text. [Guston flips through a clipped stack of pages] Okay, we do have the text in front of us.

Really, it’s impor­tant to remem­ber that most of the peo­ple, most of Mary Shelley’s con­tem­po­raries, did not think that the sit­u­a­tion for women was bad. It was just how it was. But Mary was dif­fer­ent because not only, as Susan point­ed out, was she the daugh­ter of William Godwin, rock­star polit­i­cal philoso­pher. Even more impor­tant­ly she was the daugh­ter (thank you, Joey) of Mary Wollstonecraft, rad­i­cal fem­i­nist who wrote a vin­di­ca­tion of the rights of woman and was an inter­na­tion­al super­star amongst lib­er­als and rad­i­cals, and was called a whore and a hye­na in pet­ti­coats by every­one else. And there were a lot of them.

Unfortunately for lit­tle Mary Shelley, her moth­er died ten days after giv­ing birth to her. But, Mary read all of her moth­er’s books and by the time she was 12 or 13 years old she had decid­ed I am going to live accord­ing to my moth­er’s ideals. I am going to be a bea­con of free­dom. I am going to fight for jus­tice for all peo­ple.” And she ded­i­cat­ed her life, in fact, to liv­ing accord­ing to her moth­er’s ideals.

Really inter­est­ing­ly, as she’s writ­ing Frankenstein, she suf­fers two ter­ri­ble expe­ri­ences, which are two young women that she was close to killed them­selves. Why did they kill them­selves? (And her own moth­er Mary Wollstonecraft had had also tried to kill her­self, twice.) Why? Because in 18… Well, through­out the 18th cen­tu­ry, through the 19th cen­tu­ry, what was more mon­strous to English soci­ety than an unwed moth­er? Or worse even than that, a woman who thought for her­self. An inde­pen­dent woman, an ambi­tious woman, and an intel­lec­tu­al woman.

So Mary Shelley, when she’s writ­ing Frankenstein, is think­ing— I know it’s strange to think about, but she’s think­ing less about tech­nol­o­gy than she is about the social ills that she her­self has endured and that those close to her have endured. And she’s real­ly describ­ing a world, if you think about it, in which there are no moth­ers. In which the ideals of—as she saw it—of fem­i­nin­i­ty or of women—and we would com­pli­cat­ed that dis­cus­sion now—but for Mary Shelley did not exist.

So Victor Frankenstein works in iso­la­tion rather than a com­mu­ni­ty. He’s dri­ven by ambi­tion and by self-promotion in that sense. And then he does­n’t nur­ture or edu­cate his cre­ation. He’s a hor­ri­ble par­ent. This is ter­ri­ble, thinks Mary Shelley. And the only voice of san­i­ty in the entire nov­el is off-stage… It’s Walton’s sis­ter, that he writes to, who writes let­ters to him. And in fact that’s real­ly how the nov­el ends, I just have to say, is Walton lis­tens to his sis­ter, who says, Stop with the ambi­tion, already. Leave North Pole, come home and be with your fam­i­ly and live in com­mu­ni­ty like a nor­mal human being.” Like a good human being, is the impli­ca­tion.

So what is Frankenstein real­ly about? It’s about all the things we’ve been talk­ing about today, but it’s an incred­i­ble, damn­ing, polit­i­cal com­men­tary about life in England in 18—during Mary Shelley’s life, but on into now, too. There’s of course impli­ca­tions.

Venkataraman: So have we been read­ing this wrong? When we think— I mean, aside from read­ing it wrong. But when we think about the fear of the unknown, we car­ry on this idea. Like, Frankenstein is syn­ony­mous with hor­ror and fear, right. Are we read­ing this wrong in think­ing that she was try­ing to tell us to be afraid— Is she actu­al­ly con­demn­ing being afraid of the unknown, in this case the unknown being fem­i­nin­i­ty or women?

Gordon: Oh, that’s such a great ques­tion. Well I…you know, I’m a writer, I’m a thinker. So I don’t think any read­ing is ever wrong. So, no. I’ve loved every­thing we’ve been talk­ing about and I think the appli­ca­tions are all there for us.

But, I do think that if there’s a sort of moral” to Frankenstein, that who did Mary Shelley her­self most iden­ti­fy with? Probably the crea­ture. You know, as Joey said, the unnamed crea­ture.” Why? Because that’s how peo­ple respond­ed to her. As an intel­lec­tu­al woman and as an unwed moth­er, she was called a whore. When peo­ple found out that she wrote Frankenstein they said what kind of woman would write such a book? Must be some­thing wrong with her. There’s some­thing per­verse about a woman who would write such a book.

So lat­er in her life she says, I wrote it, but that’s because the idea came to me in a dream.” And we know that isn’t true because we have her note­books. She in fact thought of the idea. She worked on it real­ly hard. She worked on it real­ly hard while young women around her were killing them­selves. And also, inci­den­tal­ly, she was read­ing the his­to­ry of slav­ery. So she’s ded­i­cat­ing her­self to the ideas of social injus­tice and the suf­fer­ing of those who are con­sid­ered mon­strous by their own soci­ety, her­self includ­ed.

So, she sees her­self as a woman who’s trying—she wants to pub­lish and be smart in her world, as some­one who’s going evoke feel­ings of mon­st— [To audi­ence (Joey Eschrich?)] You said a feel­ing of mon­stros­i­ty? People will react to her as though she’s a mon­ster, and she’s say­ing, Don’t do that.”

Annalee Newitz: What’s real­ly inter­est­ing, too, if you think about the way Frankenstein has been adapt­ed, espe­cial­ly through­out the 20th cen­tu­ry, is that slow­ly, the nar­ra­tives have become a lot more Team Monster rather than Team Frankenstein. And it’s been fun to watch these—

Gordon: Is that true?

Newitz: Yes, because we’re slow­ly start­ing to sym­pa­thize more with the mon­ster—

Gordon: Yay.

Newitz: And I think we can look at that in the— Yay! I’ve always been [crosstalk] Team Monster—

Gordon: I know. Me, too.

Newitz: —so I just want to lay that out there right now.

Gordon: I felt so bad for the mon­ster.

Newitz: We should feel ter­ri­ble—

Gordon: He want­ed friends…

Newitz: —because the mon­ster is hor­rif­i­cal­ly abused. Like you said, if we look at the mon­ster as a stand-in for a woman who’s think­ing inde­pen­dent­ly, or some­one who’s been enslaved, this is a crea­ture who is respond­ing to cir­cum­stance. The crea­ture has only ever expe­ri­enced cru­el­ty. So of course he dish­es it out. He’s only expe­ri­enced vio­lence and rejec­tion. So of course he dish­es it out.

But I think if you real­ly want to sort of com­plete the arc and go all the way up to the present day and think about a mod­ern Frankenstein nar­ra­tive, Westworld, the new TV series, is a fan­tas­tic exam­ple. And in fact the great thing is that of course Westworld is also an adap­ta­tion of a pre­vi­ous nar­ra­tive which had male pro­tag­o­nists and of course now it has female pro­tag­o­nists and African-American pro­tag­o­nists. And it’s very much explic­it­ly about what hap­pens when you’re a crea­ture who’s been made by an indif­fer­ent, kind of cor­po­rate sci­ence— I mean, there’s some com­pli­ca­tions there and we could talk about Westworld after­ward.

But I think that that’s a nar­ra­tive where we are ful­ly sym­pa­thet­ic to the cre­ations and the crea­tures, and we under­stand that they’re being abused, that their minds are being tor­ment­ed by the act of cre­ation, and that their only hope for free­dom is vio­lent upris­ing. That’s their only hope. And to gain con­trol over the means of their own pro­duc­tion, which actu­al­ly hap­pens in a fan­tas­tic episode—sorry, spoilers—where they learn— One of the char­ac­ters learns how to take con­trol of her own pro­gram­ming. And it’s such a fan­tas­tic scene. It would be like if Frankenstein said, Alright, screw you—” I’m sor­ry, Frankenstein’s mon­ster said, Screw you, Frankenstein. I’m gonna remake myself to be bet­ter.”

And so I think we have seen that come full cir­cle and I do think that that is a response to cul­tur­al changes, and to how peo­ple under­stand the process of mak­ing an arti­fi­cial being, which of course is becom­ing more and more real­is­tic in an age of robots.

David Guston: That is one of the holes in the plot of the orig­i­nal nov­el. The crea­ture actu­al­ly uncov­ers Victor’s notes, that had not been revealed to the read­er pre­vi­ous­ly. And you say, Well, crea­ture, if you’re so smart do it your­self. Don’t ask the guy to do it for you.” But to turn it back to the this fram­ing of the fear of the unknown, I want to know who’s respon­si­ble for that. It was­n’t Joey, prob­a­bly. It was­n’t Ed.

Venkataraman: It’s Frankenstein.

Guston: It was by com­mit­tee, okay.

Guston: So by fram­ing it as a fear of the unknown, it puts the know­ers in con­trol of whether there is fear, of what exact­ly the response is. And if you sort of take down a list of what char­ac­ters in the nov­el are actu­al­ly afraid of, these are real threats to dearly-held val­ues. There’s fear of loss and lone­li­ness. There is fear of the oth­er. There’s fear of dishar­mo­ny. There’s fear of female sex­u­al­i­ty and pow­er. There’s fear of the inver­sion of the master/slave rela­tion­ship.

These are real things that are real­ly oper­a­tive to Mary and to oth­er peo­ple in her soci­ety. And by these things get­ting sort of pushed off to the side the same way that we think of say, Luddism as a move­ment of igno­rance and reac­tion when there were real val­ues to real peo­ple being able to put food on their table and pro­vide for their fam­i­lies, we do some­thing dif­fer­ent that’s prob­a­bly not good for the way we want to ask ques­tions about con­tem­po­rary sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy.

Venkataraman: Well, I think this is a great point. And it’s impor­tant to com­pli­cate this idea. Is it real­ly the unknown we’re afraid of, or is it some­thing else? And I think con­tem­po­rary psy­chol­o­gists would say well actu­al­ly we’re more afraid of what’s salient. So we’re more afraid of a ter­ror­ist attack because we see it on the news and it’s con­stant­ly being reit­er­at­ed for us. It’s an avail­abil­i­ty heuris­tic, or the ter­mi­nol­o­gy.

But we’re less afraid of a dis­tant prob­lem like cli­mate change because we see less of it or we’re see­ing more of the impacts of that. And I am just so curi­ous how, David for you, think­ing about areas of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, do you think it’s the fear of the unknown that com­pli­cates and leads to most of the con­tro­ver­sies we see around new areas of tech­nol­o­gy like nan­otech­nol­o­gy, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence… Or do you think there’s some­thing else at play, and how’s that—

Guston: Yeah. No, I think there’s a lot more at play. And actu­al­ly, what I would also want to do around that kind of fram­ing is turn it around to fig­ure out who the we” is, as well. Because the we is nev­er uni­tary. The we is sort of this you know, com­pos­ite, mon­strous kind of thing. And we have a vari­ety of social and tech­ni­cal means to try to fig­ure out who that we is.

So we just had an inter­est­ing elec­tion that we heard about you know, Trumpenstein and Frankentrump pre­vi­ous­ly. But you know, we have these inter­est­ing com­pos­ites of machines and peo­ple and orders and behav­iors and rules that try to cre­ate what the we is, that try to con­sti­tute who we the peo­ple are in this coun­try. And it turns out well you know, it gets real­ly messy when you try to do that. You use some rules, say the num­ber of peo­ple who vot­ed for some­body, and you get one result. And you use a dif­fer­ent set of rules, the num­ber of peo­ple in cer­tain states that total up cer­tain num­bers of elec­tors, and you get a dif­fer­ent result. So fig­ur­ing out who that we is that is feel­ing what it is that we want them to feel is incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, too.

Venkataraman: So let me put it to you anoth­er way. How often does fear oper­at­ing on the part of the pub­lic or politi­cians fac­tor into the devel­op­ment of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy? Like, what can you tell us about recent devel­op­ments in sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy and how you see fear play­ing a role in their devel­op­ment or non-development?

Guston: I’m going to push back again sud­den­ly, because usu­al­ly the way this is cast is that the sci­en­tists and the the engineers—the technologists—have the knowl­edge. They are the ones who oper­ate ratio­nal­ly and the pub­lic is either accept­ing of or afraid of the kinds of things that they’re offered.

Well you know, why do a lot of things get cre­at­ed, any­way? Because of fear of lone­li­ness, fear of death… And so it’s not the case that fear and knowl­edge oper­ate in a dichoto­my. The peo­ple with knowl­edge oper­ate out of fear as well, and the peo­ple who are nor­mal­ly cast as afraid in the Frankenstein films, the folks with the pitch­forks, have ratio­nal respons­es in many instances.

And so I real­ly actu­al­ly want to not just move the unknown off to the side, but I want to move the fear off to the side, also. Because I think it’s fair­ly destruc­tive in talk­ing about how it is that, to go back to the pre­vi­ous pan­el, that a whole mess of dif­fer­ent peo­ple can come togeth­er and talk about what it is that we want out of new sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and not sim­ply a reac­tion between the ratio­nal and the afraid.

Venkataraman: Well, it’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion you raise and I’m going to pierce through that dichoto­my as well, because I think we assume that fear is irra­tional. But aren’t there a lot of fears that are per­fect­ly ratio­nal? If you’re stand­ing on the edge of a cliff, it’s pret­ty ratio­nal to be afraid, right.

So is it ratio­nal? What lev­el of fear about emerg­ing technologies—and Annalee I’d like to hear your per­spec­tive on this—is ratio­nal to bring into the con­ver­sa­tion, or is pro­duc­tive in the con­ver­sa­tion? How should we be talk­ing about our fears in a way that helps guide us.

Newitz: You know, it’s a good ques­tion. I will always remem­ber when I met the syn­thet­ic biol­o­gist Drew Endy, who’s at Stanford now. And he told me, I hate Frankenstein because it’s wrecked my career.” And he was quite pas­sion­ate about it, and he real­ly felt that because he was doing genet­ic engi­neer­ing— Which of course was not designed to be used on humans, it was going to be used on real­ly quite safe projects, and projects where they built safe­ty con­cerns into their exper­i­ments from the begin­ning.

But he felt that when­ev­er you use the phrase genet­ic engi­neer­ing” peo­ple would imme­di­ate­ly jump to the Frankenstein fear and they’d say, You’re play­ing God,” or You’re try­ing to destroy nature,” as if nature is some­thing that we can quan­ti­fy and as if we haven’t been chang­ing nature for like over 8,000 years using agri­cul­ture. Everybody always for­gets about agri­cul­ture and how we actu­al­ly have rad­i­cal­ly trans­formed tons of species—animal species and plant species—for a long time.

And so I think that there’s a num­ber of ques­tions that we have to bring to any project, whether it’s autonomous cars or genet­ic engi­neer­ing, around safe­ty, and around unex­pect­ed out­comes. And that kind of goes back telling dif­fer­ent sto­ries oth­er than Frankenstein. Because Frankenstein is a sce­nario, if you want to look at it that way. It’s a sce­nario where a guy who’s a total dick makes a mon­ster and—

Gordon: He was fear­less.

Newitz: Maybe. I mean, or maybe he’s actu­al­ly full of fear, you know. Maybe he actu­al­ly build­ing it out of a fear of lone­li­ness or some­thing like that. But he cre­ates a crea­ture and turns it into a mon­ster. And he neglects it and he mis­treats it, and yeah it turns out to be a real­ly bad sit­u­a­tion. But you know, there might’ve been anoth­er way out. There might’ve been a way of rear­ing that crea­ture as a child and send­ing it to school and doing all kinds of nice things for it. Maybe I’d give it a col­lege edu­ca­tion and health­care. All those things might’ve real­ly helped the out­come for the mon­ster. Maybe giv­en a name, too, while you’re at it.

And so I think that a great idea would be to have a whole set of sto­ries that we can tell, that aren’t just Frankenstein. That are counter-stories about what would be a good out­come? What would be a ver­sion of this kind of sci­en­tif­ic exper­i­ment where we do the right thing, or where kind of, as Sam was say­ing in the pre­vi­ous pan­el, kind of have a mid­dle of the road approach where we’re not real­ly total­ly igno­rant and fear­ful and we’re not com­plete­ly in con­trol, but we kind of iter­ate.

And so I think there’s a lot of nar­ra­tives out there like that. There’s actu­al­ly a fan­tas­tic project that’s going on right now, which is about the Anthropocene, which is the kind of geo­log­i­cal era that we’re in now that’s sort of human-created. And there’s a lot of fears about cli­mate change, obvi­ous­ly, and what our role in it as humans is. But a bunch of uni­ver­si­ties have got­ten togeth­er and cre­at­ed a set of sto­ries about how to have a good Anthropocene. And actu­al­ly, you can find it online. It’s called goodan​thro​pocenes​.net or some­thing like that.

And they’re sto­ries tak­en from real life but also sci­ence fic­tion about moves toward actu­al­ly car­ing for the envi­ron­ment in a sus­tain­able way using tech­nol­o­gy or using oth­er tech­niques, and just sort of think­ing about well, what would be a good out­come. And not a per­fect out­come where we’re all liv­ing in like a super land where we’re all eight feet tall and live for­ev­er. But where we do okay. We don’t destroy the world, but we mud­dle through and we man­age to repair the things that we do wrong.

Venkataraman: That’s fas­ci­nat­ing, but— Oh. Jump in, Dave.

Guston: The two pieces from the Frankenstein genre that appeal to me in exact­ly that way are of course Young Frankenstein

Gordon: Very impor­tant, isn’t it?

Guston: —high­light­ed when Gene Wilder goes into the the cell with the crea­ture and warned them not to open the door no mat­ter what hap­pens. You know, he pan­ics, he pounds the door, and then he says, Hello, hand­some!” And it’s that moment when he decides to love his crea­ture. And of course that goes to Frankenweenie, which is not a Frankenstein sto­ry but a boy and his dog sto­ry. But the point of course is that the cre­ator is work­ing with a being that he has this deep con­nec­tion with and loves to the ends of the Earth. And that’s the sort of per­fec­tion of the love the crea­ture” inter­pre­ta­tion.

Newitz: There’s also Frankenhooker [audi­ence laugh­ter] Which you guys have all seen?

Venkataraman: Take notes, every­body. This is the impor­tant part.

Newitz: Actually a very under­rat­ed nar­ra­tive from the 1990s, Frankenhooker, which actu­al­ly ends with a kind of col­lec­tive upris­ing of the women who been abused and turned into this crea­ture. So it’s kind of awe­some.

Guston: Which is also where Penny Dreadful is going.

Newitz: Yes. Penny Dreadful, anoth­er key Frankenstein nar­ra­tive, yeah.

Gordon: The thing that’s inter­est­ing about the orig­i­nal Frankenstein is that she embeds— I love this idea of many sto­ries. I think you’re so right that that’s kind of where hope lies and that will help us get to this sort of mid­dle ground, or the com­pli­cat­ed ground, help us with our entan­gled ground.

And I think one of the things that Mary Shelley embeds in the nov­el is the crea­ture’s inno­cence. Because if you think about it, when he begins… That’s why the lov­ing of the crea­tures is so mov­ing in these oth­er sto­ries, is that he’s very well read. He gives him­self essen­tial­ly his cre­ator’s edu­ca­tion. He reads Paradise Lost… He spends a lot of time hop­ing… I mean, that’s the sort of irony of it. He spends all of his time hop­ing for this beau­ti­ful con­nec­tion. Which is why I love that you sa— You know, we’re on Team Monster for a while there, hop­ing.

And so I think you’re so right that if we have these oth­er sto­ries, or in my mind what I did most recent­ly for Slate was I wrote— I end­ed up chang­ing it so it was­n’t an open let­ter from Dr. Frankenstein to Elon Musk. But that’s how I first thought of it. And what I end­ed up doing instead was I just said here’s three lessons that Victor Frankenstein should have learned, and you Elon Musk with OpenAI can ben­e­fit from.” The idea of not work­ing in iso­la­tion. The idea of putting many brains on a project, not just to stop the bad tyrant who’s going to get hold of the inven­tion, what­ev­er it is. And not just to sort through the bugs but also of course to— This is where I’m the his­to­ri­an and I’m not the futur­ist, so I won’t talk about what all those minds can do.

But the third one also was fund­ing. Frankenstein had very poor fund­ing. That’s why the mon­ster— I hate say­ing mon­ster. That’s why the cre­ation was kind of funny-looking. I mean, if you had to go dig up from a bunch of dif­fer­ent graves… An arm here and a leg there, and a skull that does­n’t match, you’re not going to have a beau­ti­ful thing, either.

Venkataraman: Maybe Frankenstein needs to tes­ti­fy before the House Science Committee. I was think­ing that could be a real­ly beau­ti­ful—

Gordon: That would be great. Yeah, because the oth­er thing Frankenstein did­n’t do is, with the lack of poor fund­ing and the iso­la­tion Frankenstein did not pre­pare the pub­lic for the advent of his cre­ation. So he was not out there telling peo­ple this kind of funny-looking thing is going to be com­ing charg­ing out of the woods… Don’t be scared, say, Greetings.” Say, Hello, hand­some.”

Guston: Say, Hello, hand­some.”

Gordon: Say, Hello, hand­some. I’m so hap­py to meet you. Have you read Paradise Lost?”

Venkataraman: Right.

Gordon: Yeah.

Newitz: So he did­n’t talk to the users, right?

Gordon: He did not talk to the users.

Newitz: He did not do any kind of… Nor, to be fair, did he talk to his cre­ation, once it became alive. And I think that’s the dif­fer­ence between the sci­ence that we’re talk­ing about now and maybe sci­ence we’ll be doing in fifty years where if we’re actu­al­ly cre­at­ing enti­ties that can make their own deci­sions and have some­thing like human con­scious­ness? Maybe it won’t be exact­ly like it. And maybe it won’t be fifty years, maybe it’ll be 200 years or 1,000 years or what­ev­er. But, how do you do that? Like, what kind of rules and ethics do you have when you’re cre­at­ing a being that is human-equivalent? I think then maybe you have to go toward think­ing about chil­dren and how do we treat chil­dren, which we don’t have a great record with, but yeah.

Guston: And that’s where I think some of the dis­cus­sion in the pre­vi­ous pan­el, in the sec­ond pan­el, around auton­o­my just did­n’t quite reach it. Because I don’t think you can read this nov­el and have an uncom­pli­cat­ed idea of auton­o­my and even think about trash­ing the word in a way, no mat­ter whether you’re talk­ing about humans or whether you’re talk­ing about sys­tems that humans cre­ate.

Because a whole part of this is wrapped up around how it is that crea­tures, whether they’re cre­at­ed nat­u­ral­ly or cre­at­ed oth­er­wise, con­sti­tute them­selves and are con­sti­tut­ed through inter­ac­tions. And the very con­cept of auton­o­my sort of bleeds away when you have that com­pli­ca­tion. So if you’re think­ing about cre­at­ing an autonomous sys­tem out of hard­ware and soft­ware… Well, the auton­o­my that you’ve made is one that is con­sti­tut­ed through a whole lot of pro­gram­mers, a whole lot of peo­ple who put stuff togeth­er, a whole lot of users that—

Gordon: Sailors.

Guston: And the sailors. And so what does the con­cept of auton­o­my actu­al­ly mean, when this thing is con­sti­tut­ed in all these diverse kinds of ways?

Venkataraman: I think you’re rais­ing a real­ly impor­tant point which I might cast a lit­tle bit under the veil of pre­dictabil­i­ty and unpre­dictabil­i­ty and sort of loss of con­trol, if you want to go back to the loss fram­ing. And I think that one of the things that’s so chal­leng­ing when we talk about areas of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and my area cli­mate change, is that there’s a lack of con­trol for any indi­vid­ual per­son on how you address it. And then there’s a whole lot of unpre­dictabil­i­ty in sort of how it plays out over the future.

And I’m just think­ing about your book, Annalee, and just how you’re try­ing to project us into this future where we face mass extinc­tion. How do we even get at these these prob­lems that are sort of unknown and uncer­tain, where we have very lit­tle con­trol? It seems to me that the fear can either cause us to just sort of hit the pan­ic but­ton, or cause us to com­plete­ly look away. Is there any way that we can get past that kind of fear when we think about the future?

Newitz: I think that’s what was so inter­est­ing about the intro­duc­tion about the uncan­ny and how what we’re real­ly afraid of is the stuff that we’re basi­cal­ly forc­ing our­selves to for­get. It’s stuff that we already know but we’re try­ing to look away, as you said. And I think with things like cli­mate change, which is what of course would lead to mass extinc­tion in many cas­es, you can’t… The way for­ward— I mean, part of it is sto­ry­telling, as I said. Sort of think­ing ahead by hav­ing a nar­ra­tive. And that nar­ra­tive does­n’t have to be sci­ence fic­tion. It can be some­thing that we get from cli­mate mod­el­ing. A lot of the best work that we have on the future of the cli­mate is com­ing from peo­ple who are tak­ing data and using that to project into the future what we might see from sea lev­el, or what we might see from tem­per­a­tures.

And those are sto­ries, too. Those are sto­ries about what’s going to hap­pen to the shape of the plan­et. We also have mod­els of what hap­pens to an ecosys­tem when enough species die out. You get to a point where if enough species die out then you get more species dying out, and more species dying out, and we can mod­el that, too. All of that sounds hor­ri­ble and peo­ple don’t want to think about it, and that’s the moment when peo­ple kin­da shut down and they want to for­get. And that’s why I think again it’s impor­tant to think in terms of a mid­dle way instead of say­ing, Okay, every sin­gle day we must con­front how ter­ri­ble we are and how we’re killing every­thing and every­thing is doomed.” Versus you know, every­thing is fine.

We have to have a sense of yeah, we’re gonna screw up. We screwed up. But we can fix it. And when we fix it well…maybe it won’t be per­fect but it’ll be a lit­tle bet­ter. And so there has to be a cer­tain amount in our sto­ries and our think­ing about the future, and even maybe our sci­ence, of a will­ing­ness to for­give and try again and try again. And when I say for­give, part of what I mean is for­give our­selves for screw­ing up. Because if you keep telling your­self you’re ter­ri­ble for hav­ing screwed things up, that is when you go into that shut­down mode. And that’s what hap­pens to Frankenstein, you know. He real­izes he screwed up and he just runs away from the prob­lem.

Venkataraman: So do you dis­agree with— Nancy on an ear­li­er pan­el was say­ing oh you know, when things go well it just makes for a crap­py sto­ry. But I hear you bring­ing up a cou­ple of times now that there can be a good— There’s a pos­i­tive sto­ry of impli­ca­tions of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy. There’s a pos­i­tive sto­ry we can tell about the future. What’s the way to make that a good sto­ry?

Newitz: A great exam­ple would be Kim Stanley Robinson’s nov­el 2312, which is about the year 2312. So it’s set in the future. And it’s a sto­ry about a future solar sys­tem. And Earth is there, and Earth has kin­da fixed a lot of its envi­ron­men­tal prob­lems. They’re doing things like rais­ing Florida back up out of the ocean. And they’ve de-extincted wolves by build­ing aster­oids where they have arti­fi­cial envi­ron­ments to de-extinct ani­mals. And so they shoot all these wolves down on to the plan­et to let them— I mean in safe­ty bub­bles. No wolves are harmed in the repop­u­lat­ing of the wilds.

But, they screw up all the time. People kill each oth­er. There’s a hor­rif­ic con­spir­a­cy to wreck all of these plans. There’s no sim­ple… Like, when we tell a good sto­ry, it has to be just kind of a good enough sto­ry. And so it becomes an inter­est­ing sto­ry when you think about about all the con­flict involved in try­ing to fix the mess. The mess is there, we’re tying to fix it. In the process of try­ing to fix it we’re going to make a new mess. When we raise Florida up out of the ocean, that’s going to wreck a bunch of new ecosys­tems that’ve formed. If all of the ice melts in the Arctic, say for exam­ple, a whole new econ­o­my will spring up in the Arctic. So if we re-ice the Arctic lat­er we’re going to screw up that econ­o­my. So there’s always new ways to screw things up, even if you’re fix­ing old prob­lems. And so I think the accep­tance that we have to have is things are always going to be ambigu­ous.

Venkataraman: I want to open it up to ques­tions, but you have a final thought on that?

Gordon: I was going to say I wish Mary Shelley were here. By the way, her name was not Mary Shelley when she wrote this book. Just so you remem­ber.

Venkataraman: Mmm, Mrs. Percy B.

Gordon: Yeah. She was not mar­ried. She was an unwed moth­er. Just want to remind you of that. You know, she did­n’t stop with Frankenstein. She had— There was more spawn. And the next book that she was going to write is called The Last Man, which is about a dis­ease. A mys­te­ri­ous dis­ease wipes out all of human­i­ty except for a few peo­ple who have many wood­en con­ver­sa­tions. I mean, it’s not a great nov­el.

But she finds her way out of the very sort of dystopi­an dilem­mas that she keeps dream­ing up. I mean her nov­els, hon­est­ly, they’re just not fun to read because she’s real­ly a philoso­pher and a thinker. So ideas dom­i­nate, and peo­ple being real and hav­ing actu­al con­ver­sa­tions that we can fol­low just aren’t impor­tant to her.

But, by the end of her fic­tion writ­ing career—and she goes on and she writes five more novels—what ends up hap­pen­ing is… Or, what ends up hap­pen­ing is very com­pli­cat­ed, but essen­tial­ly the idea of com­mu­ni­ty, of com­ing togeth­er in com­mu­ni­ty, that heroes…she says in her last nov­el, there are no heroes. All of the men are weak in her nov­els. And what ends up sav­ing peo­ple is the idea of women com­ing togeth­er and sav­ing men from their ambi­tion and learn­ing how to live togeth­er in a kind of com­mu­ni­tar­i­an, flawed, but still bet­ter than this sort of last man uni­verse. So I wish she could be on the pan­el, because she’d have a lot to say.

Venkataraman: She’d’ve got­ten like an A++ on the Bechdel Test, right, where women are sup­posed to have real con­ver­sa­tions.

Gordon: She total­ly would’ve, right.


Bina Venkataraman: So let’s open up to some ques­tions. I’m sure there’s some inter­est­ing thoughts and ques­tions. Questions encour­aged, of course, with ques­tion marks. Is any­one afraid of ask­ing ques­tions? Why are you afraid?

Annalee Newitz: Fear of the unknown.

Audience 1: I’m not sure how to frame this, but I guess I’ve just been think­ing a lot about the ways that Mary Godwin Shelley’s nov­el has had unin­tend­ed con­se­quences of its own in the way it’s been inter­pret­ed and rein­ter­pret­ed so many times in cul­ture. And I’m sure that sort of comes up all of the time in Frankenstein. But I sup­pose I would be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed to hear any­one on this pan­el’s thoughts about that. Was there some­thing inher­ent in the nov­el that intend­ed the con­se­quences? You know, the sort of mas­sive mytho­log­i­cal effect that it’s had? Or has cul­ture done a real dis­ser­vice to the nov­el, cre­at­ing a myth that it itself has need­ed and con­tin­ues to?

Charlotte Gordon: I just want to answer his­tor­i­cal­ly to begin with, before we talk before we talk about the meta­phys­i­cal impli­ca­tions. Which is, Mary Shelley made not a pen­ny out of Frankenstein, that only 500 copies were pub­lished in the first edi­tion and not all of them sold. I mean, they did­n’t all sell. She made no mon­ey. And the rea­son why the name Frankenstein” in the sto­ry became famous is because in England dur­ing that time, play­wrights could just rip off nov­els freely. So the sto­ry itself gets pop­u­lar on the stage and no one has to adhere to the nov­el itself. But the name Frankenstein, and the sto­ry there­fore, becomes known by the pub­lic but peo­ple aren’t sit­ting around read­ing the nov­el. So right almost from the begin­ning there’s a detach­ment between the actu­al text and then the sto­ry as she’s told. And I think anoth­er, corol­lary, ques­tion is why does every­one think that Frankenstein is the mon­ster?

Newitz: [nods]

Gordon: Right? That mir­ror thing between Frankenstein and his cre­ation. So I just had to be a his­to­ri­an.

Newitz: Yeah. And I think that’s such an inter­est­ing point. Because I think that Frankenstein has become so well-known because of all these adap­ta­tions. And it’s kind of the first fan­f­ic phe­nom­e­non. Fanfic is when fans write their own ver­sions of sto­ries, or set in the uni­verse of their favorite sto­ries.

And so a lot of the adap­ta­tions of Frankenstein end up hav­ing the same kinds of con­ver­sa­tions, in a weird way, that we’ve been hav­ing about, are we Team Monster or are we Team Frankenstein? And it allows us to have this kind of pro­duc­tive debate, but in the realm of fic­tion, so it’s not too scary. We don’t have to be talk­ing about actu­al sci­en­tists and actu­al politi­cians. We can say well, why was the mon­ster wronged? And what did Frankenstein do wrong?

And I think you see that played out in these adap­ta­tions. And some of them are super Team Monster. Some of them are just like the mon­ster’s hor­ri­ble and can bare­ly talk and it’s real­ly all about poor Frankenstein. Some of them cre­ate whole new char­ac­ters.

David Guston: But there is, as you said about Drew Endy, this issue of sci­en­tists per­ceiv­ing it as an anti-science screed. When peo­ple talk to sci­en­tists and engi­neers, a lot of moti­va­tion for them to do what they do, to do sci­ence for good in the world, actu­al­ly comes from sci­ence fic­tion, undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed between whether it’s sort of pro-science sci­ence fic­tion or anti-science sci­ence fic­tion.

And my favorite exam­ple from Frankenstein is not from the nov­el but from the 1931 film where Earl Backen, who was the inven­tor of the tran­sis­tor­ized pace­mak­er, saw the 1931 film as an 8 or 9 year-old boy, became fas­ci­nat­ed with the con­nec­tion between elec­tric­i­ty and life, and cre­at­ed this essen­tial­ly Frankensteinian tech­nol­o­gy in his garage, in the mid-1950s.

And so I don’t know if there’s any­body from NSF in the room right now, but Ed and I have fought this lit­tle bat­tle with NSF about how much we iden­ti­fy the word Frankenstein,” the ref­er­ence to the nov­el and the films, with work that is being spon­sored by the National Science Foundation, because of this issue.

Gordon: Well, now we can go forth and see the nov­el as a woman-centered nov­el even though there’s no women, real­ly, in it. They die.

The oth­er thing is that it’s a half of a mar­i­tal bat­tle that she was hav­ing with Percy. So for the lit­er­ary peo­ple in here, Percy goes on and write a long poem called Prometheus Unbound, which is almost exact­ly the oppo­site vision of Frankenstein. Science is going to help us in every way pos­si­ble, and…

Joey Eschrich: Hi. I’m back with a ques­tion. I just want­ed to see what you all thought about the thing that scares Victor the most in the nov­el it seems is to cre­ate a female crea­ture, to cre­ate a bride, right? And so it strikes me that— And then maybe the points that you brought up, Charlotte, about fem­i­nin­i­ty and pol­i­tics at the time explain that. It seems strik­ing to me that the thing that seems to hor­ri­fy him the most—beyond words, really—and caus­es him to become vio­lent, is the spec­tre of a female crea­ture.

Gordon: I have so many thoughts about that, but I’m so curi­ous to know what your thoughts and your thoughts are. [Indicating Newitz and Guston]

Newitz: I will say super briefly that I think that that is less a fear about fem­i­nin­i­ty than it is about the racial oth­er. Because what he’s afraid of is that these two mon­sters” are gonna go off and make babies. And they’re going to take over Europe! Oh my God. What do you think that’s about? I don’t know. Hmm.

Eshrich: It does­n’t sound rel­e­vant.

Newitz: It does­n’t sound rel­e­vant to me.

Gordon: That would’ve been pre­cise­ly what I would’ve said, as well. That it’s a new race. It’s a new race.

Guston: There’s also one pas­sage about the poten­tial female crea­ture being so strong that she could take any mate that she want­ed if she reject­ed the crea­ture.

Newitz: Yeah. So mis­ce­gena­tion, too. That’s…a dark place.

Venkataraman: Okay, we’re going to take one last quick ques­tion. We just have a cou­ple of min­utes. From the gen­tle­man in the glass­es here, who had his hand up. And then we get to the booze. So we have an incen­tive to speed this up.

Audience 2: So the two things that’ve been going through my mind in the last few min­utes is the Industrial Revolution and also the huge upheaval in the demo­c­ra­t­ic monar­chy struc­tures in Europe at that time. And I won­dered if that sort of fear is implied in any of Frankenstein.

Gordon: [inaudi­ble] …jump right in. Mary Shelley was deeply involved in the polit­i­cal sys­tems and in protests against the polit­i­cal sys­tems because of her own beliefs but also because of her moth­er, her father, and also her hus­band Percy. So, I think that Frankenstein can be read, as I think I’ve now said for the five thou­sandth time, as a polit­i­cal nov­el. That this is a nov­el about race. It’s about gen­der. It’s about the social injus­tices that she saw. I mean, it’s a real cry out against social injus­tice.

As for the Industrial Revolution? It wor­ried the Shelleys. The Industrial Revolution wor­ried the Shelleys, but I would say that they were excit­ed by inno­va­tion, tech­nol­o­gy, and sci­ence in gen­er­al. That she herself—if she were here on the pan­el, which I’m imagining—she’d be pret­ty pro-science. On the one hand it’s unchecked male ambi­tion, racism, and inequal­i­ty that she’s against, not sci­ence per se.

Newitz: Although, it’s inter­est­ing because I think Frankenstein, espe­cial­ly lat­er, gets read as a fig­ure for the pro­le­tari­at. Not Frankenstein, the mon­ster. Sorry, I have fall­en total­ly into the trap. The mon­ster’s read as a fig­ure for the pro­le­tari­at. And espe­cial­ly the fact that the mon­ster’s made from parts. And I think that’s part of the kind of assem­bly line idea that this is a crea­ture that sort of you know, almost sums up what indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion is like.

And often­times, the Frankenstein mon­ster’s kind of con­trast­ed with Dracula, who kin­da comes at the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry, who’s the sort of aris­to­crat­ic mon­ster, although also rep­re­sents a bunch of oth­er stuff, too. So I think that the Industrial Revolution does kin­da haunt Frankenstein and the mon­ster, but espe­cial­ly lat­er. Especially in lat­er adap­ta­tions. Especially because Frankenstein does rise up, you know, and kind of slay his mak­er—

Gordon: You mean the crea­ture.

Newitz: The crea­ture. I’m sor­ry. I apol­o­gize in advance for every—

Gordon: No, but that’s fas­ci­nat­ing. That’s fas­ci­nat­ing.

Guston: And there’s… I’m a polit­i­cal sci­en­tist by train­ing. And there’s this won­der­ful fron­tispiece to some edi­tion— (And there’s actu­al­ly real research to be done still on this stuff.) To an edi­tion of Hobbes’ Leviathan, which was prob­a­bly— I mean, the book had to have been in Mary’s father’s library, whether this par­tic­u­lar was there or not, which shows the Leviathan, which rep­re­sents the body body politic as a com­pos­ite being.

So we’ve got all these dif­fer­ent com­pos­ite beings run­ning around. Not just the crea­ture, but the gov­ern­ments that we con­sti­tute; in lib­er­al soci­ety the cor­po­ra­tions that we con­sti­tute, that are bod­ies that are fic­tion­al bod­ies that can earn prof­its, can endure past the life­time of their own­ers. And so we have all these com­pos­ites that we haven’t fig­ured out how to con­trol yet.

Venkataraman: Wow. If we can’t find res­o­nance today in Frankenstein from that, I don’t know how we could. Thank you all so much for a won­der­ful pan­el.

Further Reference

The Spawn of Frankenstein event page at New America, recap at Slate Future Tense, and Futurography’s series on Frankenstein


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