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In Frankenstein's Shadow Technology in the 21st century

January 1, 2018, marks the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s world-changing novel Frankenstein. I have taught Shelly's landmark story for over twenty years, and the scope of technological change I have witnessed in those two decades is simply incredible.

When I first embarked on my teaching journey students did not have cell phones. Just pagers. Cell phones were a luxury for the very affluent, and cell phone towers (the unseen and oft forgotten network necessary to support cell phones) were few and far between. I remember my uncle - who was an engineer for Motorola at the time - saying that cell phones were the wave of the future. I remember listening to his vision of the future with a degree of skepticism. Turns out he was right after all. Now it seems everyone has a cell phone or smartphone, and land lines and pay phones are virtually a thing of the past. And society has changed dramatically as a result.

Capturing the world on an iPhone

This is just one example of drastic change that was initially viewed by naysayers as something that would never be adopted by the public at large. Society has seen dozens - if not hundreds - of innovative technologies become part of mainstream culture.

Much like the turbulent and momentous history of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Shelley's Frankenstein was published in 1818, during a time of incredible change and innovation. It was the age of the Industrial Revolution, and society was undergoing enormous transformation. Efficient steam engines led to increased mechanization, to large factories, and to the ever-rising production of consumer goods. Yet not all of these discoveries and changes were positive. We unleashed the power of the atomic bomb in the twentieth century, and destroyed whole cities with it. We continue to carelessly pollute our environment with toxic waste. And we have destroyed whole ecosystems in our insatiable thirst for oil and coal.

Oil and Coal

Shelley's novel about a "mad" scientist exploring the realms of life and death and forbidden knowledge not only captured the imaginations of the readers at the time, it continues to hold our fascination as we face a brave new world of technological innovation today. It would be fair to say that the impact of Shelley’s 19th century novel on 20th and 21st century science, exploration, literature, film and society can hardly be calculated.

Your task for this assignment is to explore two different areas of scientific exploration and experimentation. In addition to providing the reader with interesting information about your two selected areas, you will need to provide a commentary on their potential impact. Be sure to consider the ethical implications of the innovations you highlight. What are the potential positives for society? The negatives? What are your personal feelings?

Instead of writing a traditional paper for this assignment, you will be required to create an Adobe Spark Page. Simply put, an Adobe Spark Page is exactly what you would be asked to produce for an online version of Scientific American. Or The New York Times. Your Spark Page needs to include the following:

  • A captivating picture for your main page that relates to your subjects.
  • A minimum of three hyperlinks to reputable sources (articles in newspapers, magazines or peer-reviewed journals). You may certainly create more than three hyperlinks, but three is the minimum.
  • At least one YouTube video embedded in your Spark Page. For example, I showed the class a few Ted Talk videos about different subjects. Your video (or videos) should provide interesting information to your viewer about your topics.
  • At least three images (properly cited) taken from Pixabay, Unsplash, or other Creative Commons sources. We are focusing on fair use for this assignment, which means you can’t simply choose your favorite Google image and then copy and paste it into your article. That would get you into serious trouble at any news outlet. In school it would mean getting a zero; at a job it would mean being fired.

Not sure how to create a Spark Page? No problem. The short video below will walk you step-by-step through all of the exciting features Adobe Spark Page has to offer, and you can watch it at your own pace.

The buttons included below will bring you to the two Ted Talks I showed in class. The first is about the ethics and implications of bio-engineering, and the second is about brain-to-brain interfaces.

What types of topics should you focus on? Good question. Choose two different topics that interest you. Perhaps you are interested in prosthetics, like those featured in Smithsonian's special documentary on bionics.

Or perhaps DNA manipulation piques your interest. Does artificial intelligence excite your imagination? IBM's Watson played superstar Ken Jennings on the show Jeopardy! - and won.

Perhaps you are interested in learning more about diseases, and how scientists are developing new methods to detect and combat them. Maybe exoskeletons intrigue you. Or organ regeneration. Or perhaps 3D printing of organs captures your attention. Whatever you decide to pursue, be sure to write at least 600-800 words for each topic.

Credits:

Created with images by kalhh - "cyborg forward digitization" • Nigel Tadyanehondo - "untitled image" • Mataparda - "4068936199_2341657e2d_o" • NOAA Photo Library - "line3916" • stafichukanatoly - "industry dumper minerals" • Mariusz Prusaczyk - "Mining quarry with special equipment." • sharing user info with oath is wrong - "day 39" • 50 Watts - "Kelvin Osorio, Frankenstein (entry for the 50 Watts' Polish Book Cover Contest)"

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