Read More: Scientific American
In 1797, at the dawn of the industrial age, Goethe wrote “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” a poem about a magician-in-training who, through his arrogance and half-baked powers, unleashes a chain of events he cannot control. About 20 years later, a young Mary Shelley answered a dare to write a ghost story, which she shared at a small gathering at Lake Geneva. Her story would go on to be published as a novel, “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus,” on Jan. 1, 1818. Both are stories about our powers to create things that take on a life of their own. Goethe’s poem comes to a climax when the apprentice calls out in a panic: Master, come to my assistance! Wrong I was in calling Spirits, I avow, For I find them galling, Cannot rule them now. While the master fortunately returns just in time to cancel the treacherous spell, Shelley’s tale doesn’t end so nicely: Victor Frankenstein’s monster goes on a murderous rampage, and his creator is unable to put a stop to the carnage. Who foretold our fate: Goethe or Shelley? That’s the question we face on the 200th anniversary of “Frankenstein,” as we find ourselves grappling with the unintended consequences of our creations from Facebook, to artificial intelligence and human genetic engineering. Will we sail through safely or will we, like Victor Frankenstein, witness “destruction and infallible misery”?