My doctoral dissertation addressed what I called the “Frankenstein Complex.” So guess why this story bothers me.
Today, a scientific journal published a study that some people thought might never be made public at all.
The paper describes experiments that suggest just a few genetic changes could potentially make a bird flu virus capable of becoming contagious in humans, and causing a dangerous pandemic. Read more
Horror of the “gothic” variety that occupied so much of the conversation between Byron and the Shelleys (these would be the conversations that ultimately gave rise to Frankenstein) has traditionally traded in some easily recognizable tropes. Among the most common are your haunted places. Swamps and moors are always a little scary. Graveyards and crypts, of course. Transylvania.
And then there’s haunted houses. Dark mansions, castles on top of hills. Abandoned homes where terrible things once happened. Subdivisions built on top of Indian burial grounds. And so on. Read more
You’re honey child to a swarm of bees
Gonna blow right through you like a breeze
Give me one last dance
Well slide down the surface of things
You’re the real thing
Yeah the real thing
You’re the real thing
Even better than the real thing
Fantasy stories, myths, legends, tall tales, fairy tales, horror, all these have been with us for a very long time. Science fiction, as well, has been with us since Mary Shelley found herself in a bet with Lord Byron about the possibility of writing a new kind of horror, one not grounded in the gothic.* So the presence in our popular culture of stories based in unreality of one form or another is certainly nothing new.
It seems to me that there’s been a lot more of it lately, though. Read more
Verily, we have arrived at the end of all culture. Perhaps predictably, the culprit is technology. Or, to be a bit more specific, the culprit is Microsoft, which has now infused the art of songwriting with the same kind of magic and warmth you’ve come to expect from Excel.
Microsoft is pitching software designed for you, no musical training required. You sing the words as best you can, and its Songsmith software supplies computer-matched musical accompaniment.
Words … fail. Read more
Part five in a series.
LIFEâ€™s portrayal of the space race represented, in most respects, a logical extension of its war coverage. Many of the space programâ€™s early goals were military in nature, and as in World War II, technology was once again both demon and messiah, depending on whether it was theirs or ours.
. . .Sputnik proved that there were great military, as well as scientific, advances in the U.S.S.R. Getting their heavy satellite up meant that Russia had developed a more powerful rocket than any the U.S. had yet fired and substantial Soviet claims of success with an intercontinental missile. Putting Sputnik into a precise orbit meant Russia had solved important problems of guidance necessary to aim its missiles at U.S. targets. The satellite could also be the forerunner of a system of observation posts which would watch the U.S. unhindered and with deadly accuracy (10/21/57, 24). Read more
I used to work with a HAL 9000. Back when I was at US West in the late ’90s we had a voice system into which we would record the day’s company news so that employees without Internet access could dial in and keep up with the latest events. As with any such system there was a dial-in sequence, buttons that had to be pressed in a certain order, etc.
One day, as I was working through the first stage of the sequence, our phone system apparently achieved sentience. For reasons that I still can’t explain, a decade later, and that nobody at the time had any clue about, the machine sort of … intuited what I was about to do. It performed an action or two that, put simply, it could not do. Read more
Part three in a series.
In an age and a culture dominated by scientism, the word â€œsampleâ€ tends to invoke the adjectival â€œrepresentative,â€ and I cannot begin to imagine culling a meaningful representative sample from LIFEâ€™s 400-plus issues. Still, it seems important to devote a few pages to what happened with LIFE and technology between the Fort Peck Dam and Apollo 17. I will center this discussion on innovations and events that, from our perspective here at the end of the century, appear to have left significant marks on history.
The Medical Morality Play
LIFEâ€™s coverage of medical technology began early and covered, through the decades, the research, development, and application of treatments for a variety of diseases and disorders afflicting humanity. Read more
Part one in a series.
During its 36-year run, LIFE Magazine traversed a period of technological innovation and peril unsurpassed in the recorded history of humanity. As the first issue was released in November of 1936, a resurgent Germany was constructing the most awesome war machine the world had yet seen, a development that literally threatened the very future of the hemisphere. LIFEâ€™s final issue went to press at the end of 1972, roughly three weeks after NASAâ€™s last manned mission to the moon, Apollo 17, closed the books on a program that proved — theoretically, at least — that humanity was not inevitably bound to this planet.
The technological distance between these two moments is mind-boggling. Read more