Science//

The Classic Literature Book Every Modern Tech Leader Should Read

A new edition of Frankenstein serves as a cautionary tale for modern-day creators.

Sometimes good intentions lead to not-so-good consequences. This was the case in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the timeless story of a man who brings a monster to life that later turns on its creator. Applying that concept to the present, The MIT Press published a new edition of Frankenstein last year specifically geared toward engineers and scientists, warning them of the irreversible repercussions of their inventions.

This edition of Frankenstein, commemorating the initial work’s 200th anniversary, is a version of the original manuscript from 1818 that includes “annotations and essays by leading scholars exploring the social and ethical aspects of scientific creativity,” according to the book description.

The book’s introduction implies that the modern scientific community dismisses the story of Frankenstein as “an anti-science creed,” urging creators “not to be afraid” to pursue great inventions.

“Some scientists and engineers think things are so sweet and interesting that they get wrapped up in the solving of the problem rather than considering what the larger consequences might be,” said lead editor David Guston, director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State.

In a world where technological developments increasingly resemble works of science-fiction, Frankenstein serves as “a catechism for designers of robots and inventors of artificial intelligences,” Jill Lepore writes in The New Yorker. With great creativity comes great responsibility. And it’s important for us to remember our innovations could one day surpass us in both sophistication and intelligence.

This concern is one that’s been echoed by technology and business leaders alike. We’ve seen how technology, whether intentionally or not, can be used to distort the truth, compromise democracy and harm mental health. A month before the iPhone X release, Tony Fadell — who helped design the original iPad and iPhone — said he worries his grandchildren will see him as “the guy that destroyed society.”

Chamath Palihapitiya, an ex-Facebook executive, said it’s been “gut wrenching” to witness how technology has been used to divide people. “I feel tremendous guilt,” he said. “In the back, deep, deep recesses of our mind, we kind of knew something bad could happen.” 

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