The issue of technology and the limits that is should be kept within is one of the most important and often controversial topics for discussion in contemporary society. On the one hand, some argue that technological progress should be pushed as far as possible as it is sure to benefit humanity, while others argue that such progress may well contain dangerous factors that need to be thought about carefully before deciding whether or not they should be pursued at all. Michael Crichton’s novel Prey deals with several of these issues. This paper will begin by discussing the novel itself and will then discuss how its finds its mirror in the contemporary world of science and technology.
Prey follows it protagonist, Jack, through a series of encounters with nano-technology. This is technology that exists on a cellular level and is often thought of as being one of the most important scientific advances of recent years. Throughout the course of the novel, it emerges that the nano-technology that first his wife and Jack himself has been working on has been engineered in order to become self aware and that it may in fact prove to be danger to humanity. This danger is calculated based on the fact that the technology is intelligent, although it does not posses the capacity to feel empathy and therefore it can be argued that it results in a fore that cannot be controlled. The primary technological issues that arise out of Prey are therefore two fold. The first involves nano-technology and the second involves the artificial intelligence or A.I. In both these cases, the book suggests that technology has gone too far and that is has underestimated the consequences of its own development.
There is nothing in existence that is reminiscent of the clouds that swarm in Prey although there is currently nano-technology in development, something that many people argue is hugely exciting and important for several possible uses, most notably in medicine and the performance of microscopic operations. Although some controversies exist around this area, they do not tend towards the danger that such technologies place to individuals, rather they focus on the inequality that exists in the distribution of the technology and those who are likely to be able to have access to its benefits. One recent article has discussed the fact that only the most developed countries in the world are likely to have access to the benefits that nano-technology may be able to bring. The writer notes that; Given the imperatives of competition and profit maximisation that are driving global nanotechnology R&D, applications continue to target consumers with high disposabl incomes…with the result that benefits are most likely to accrue to developed nations’ (Nickerson, 2013). Because of the fact that medical and technological research is currently conducted for the sake of profit rather than benefit, it is the case that the technology itself is being formed in such a way that it will only be able to serve those who can afford it. Not only does this generate a controversy with regard to its apparent inequality, but it also suggests that the technology itself is compromised. The argument follows that, in the current world, many opportunities regarding nano-technology will be missed as investment will be put into its commercial development rather than in its use for the benefit of people as a whole.
The second aspect of technology in Prey, Artificial Intelligence, can also be seen to cause large amounts of controversy in current discussions. In this case, it is true that the concerns of the novel can be seen to accurately reflect the concerns of general conversations around the area. In particular, the focus revolves around whether or not artificial intelligence will surpass humans and whether it will be a threat to them. However, it is important to note that there are also seminal discussions that talk of the benefits of AI and that also see it as simply a continuation of the evolution of life as it has already taken place on earth. For example, Jastrow argues that it is the case that not only would conscious computers be good but that they would not in any way be considered as being unnatural. He writes; ‘In a cosmos that has endured for billions of years against man’s mere million, the human form is not likely to be the standard form for intelligent life’ (1978). Indeed, artificial intelligence or computer focused life is likely to be much more prevalent and should therefore be seen not as a direct threat but rather simply as another step in evolution. As such, as with nano-technology, it can be seen that conversations surrounding AI do exist, although they do not generally focus on the apocalyptic concerns of Crichton’s novel.
In conclusion, this paper has focused on Crichton’s Prey as a way of understanding contemporary controversies surrounding certain kinds of technology. However, it has argued that while the novel does focus on potentially real technology, in reality the debates surrounding these tend to either focus on the political reality of technology as it relates to the global economy or on philosophical questions, rather than the emphasis on danger that Crichton develops.
Indeed, it should be argued that the focus that Crichton gives comes more the demands of writing a thriller paper back than it does from producing a serious study of technology and its relationship to human society.