We live in a society of seemingly never-ending technological advancement. In my relatively short life, I’ve seen rotary phones (look that one up, kids) hanging on the wall in my grandparents house, and used internet that started up with a dial-tone with speed measured in kilobytes rather than mega or gigabytes. It was only ten short years ago that the iPhone revolutionized they way we looked at cellphones. Now, we’re on the cusp of self-driving cars and currently take to the skies in planes that are essentially automated.
There’s a lot to be said for all of this constantly marching advancement, but there are certainly concerns and more than a few potential pitfalls. In fact, writers have long rang a warning bell for dangers of technology potentially run amok. From classics that feel disturbingly prophetic to more recent fare that feels all too relevant, here are few of our favorite novels on out of control technology.
While there are certainly benefits inherent to the idea of cloning, more than a few writers have explored the potential unintended consequences. However, none have done it with quite the emotional impact of Kazuo Ishiguro. Never Let Me Go imagines a near-future where clones are raised essentially for the sole purpose of organ harvesting. It’s deeply moving and elegiac story that lingers long after the final page.
Is there any piece of technology more ubiquitous in today’s society than social media? With billions of users across myriad platforms, it’s difficult to fathom the inherent danger – and stunning impact – social media could pose. With The Circle, Dave Eggers zeroes in on the most logical concern for this societal obsession: privacy. Eggers takes the question of just how much privacy we are willing to sacrifice for either convenience or a few moments of internet fame to its unnerving and all-too-plausible conclusion.
Due to a surge in popularity back in January, 1984 may have become one of 2017’s most read classics. With mounting concerns of government surveillance programs and the attendant overreach, that surge in popularity has been long brewing. Orwell’s best known novel has proven disturbingly prescient in recent years and is always well worth a reread.
Dealing with a potentially hostile AI is a classic sci-fi trope, but it’s utility obviously extends beyond the four corners of sci-fi. With The Fear Index, Robert Harris combines the corporate espionage thriller with the theme of an AI moving beyond it’s intended scope. In this case, a system utilizing a series of algorithms to better predict financial markets ends up sending its creator’s life into a tailspin.
Michael Crichton was well known for the technical wizardry that underpinned much of his work. His meticulous research and medical/scientific background added an engaging air of authenticity to his writing. Jurassic Park is not only among his best known novels, but also one of his best. Crichton asks the question: What man would do if we suddenly discovered a technique for cloning dinosaur DNA? The answer, of course, is we’d open a super-expensive and surprisingly non-secure theme park. What could go wrong?
Stephen King, for all his skill, is not always a particularly subtle writer, and his general aversion to technology is a well-trod aspect of a good chunk of his fiction, from “Trucks” to The Tommyknockers to the more recent End of Watch. Cell is arguably the most overt examination of Kings forays into Luddism. In true King fashion, a mysterious signal broadcast across cell phone networks begins to the turn the world’s population into interconnected network of hive-mind powered zombies.
In this Dean Koontz thriller, a genetically engineered, super-intelligent dog goes on the run from a shady
government organization and a laboratory engineered killing machine hellbent on the dog’s destruction.
Koontz crafts a predictably tight and well-hewn thriller built around fears of genetic engineering and
unfettered scientific advancement.
For all its promise, automation has already taken a toll on economies and enterprises the world over. It’s
all too easy to imagine the perilous implications of ever-increasing automation could have on our society.
This is an issue that Kurt Vonnegut foresaw with striking clarity in 1952 with the publication of Player Piano.
Vonnegut, true to form, imagined a disturbingly plausible world where mechanization and automation
have made the average human worker all but obsolete.
The inspiration for the films Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049
Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was a revolutionary force in the world of sci-fi, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one
of his most thought provoking and fascinating novels. Dick’s dystopia imagines a world and a population ravaged by war and a decaying environment. The earth’s population, both human and animal, are supplemented by incredibly life-like androids. Through this lens, Dick examines the ethical quandaries of sentience, what it means to be human, and the perils of man attempting to play god.
Margaret Atwood is enjoying something of a popular renaissance, with The Handmaid’s Tale suddenly
feeling more relevant and terrifying than ever and marquee adaptations of her works finding success
with new audiences. Her brand of speculative fiction relies on a healthy dose of well-conceived realism to
attain their often shocking prescience and Oryx and Crake is no different. Tackling the subject of genetic
engineering, Oryx and Crake is an unnerving view into the perils of short-term scientific gains pushing
ethical responsibilities to the wayside.