“There are so many areas where we’re creating what can be thought of as different forms of life,” says Finn. “We’ll need to wrestle with making the best choices about them for the future.” People often refer to Frankenstein in these discussions: When someone wants to make a new scientific development sound scary, they often apply the prefix franken- to emphasize its unnaturalness, as in “frankenfood” for crops that have been genetically modified.
Gannon, the research ethicist, adds that Frankenstein’s lessons also apply to technological advances, from social media to robotic aircraft known as drones, with potentially unexpected effects on society. Just as Victor Frankenstein didn’t anticipate the results of his creation, he says, “we don’t fully understand or appreciate the consequences of many new technologies.”
Ultimately, Frankenstein isn’t about giving up on scientific progress. It’s about creating responsibly. “Mary Shelley wasn’t anti-science,” says Finn. “Victor Frankenstein’s great sin wasn’t bringing his creature to life. It was failing to consider the consequences and take responsibility for his work. That’s the lesson we hope people take away: We can’t turn our backs on innovation, but we need to think carefully about the consequences of our actions.”