Jurassic Park Is A Warning About The Future
Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films. One of the main reasons is that it has dinosaurs and I love dinosaurs! I mean who doesn’t want to see velociraptors and a T-Rex duke it out?
Aside from this, I love the film because it poses several moral questions that have become ever more relevant as the years go by. If you haven’t seen the film, I advise you to go and watch it because it’s hard to discuss the issues without revealing the plot.
Also, if you haven’t seen the film by now, you need to go and take a long look in the mirror. Seriously. It’s a work of art, what have you been doing for the past 20 years!?
The issues in the film revolve around the dinosaurs that have scientists have brought back to life after 65 million years of extinction. While this is not strictly possible in reality, the question of bringing back animals from the dead, or cloning is important.
As one of the main characters in the film touches upon, just because we can do something doesn’t always mean we should. In an age when scientific breakthroughs and technological advancements will raise more and more ethical questions, it’s important to consider the message in Jurassic Park.
We may be able to play God, but just because we wield this power doesn’t mean things will turn out the way we intend.
65 million years in the making
The premise of Jurassic Park is of a giant zoo that is home to dinosaurs who have been brought back to life after 65 million years of extinction. A group of people including a palaeontologist, paleobotanist, mathematician and a ‘blood-sucking lawyer’ are brought to the island to inspect the facility before it’s opened to the public.
In an ominous scene as the group are about to land on the island, Dr Alan Grant, the palaeontologist, is unable to fasten his seat belt and has to improvise while the helicopter makes a bumpy landing.
Once the group land on the island they are shown around and see a variety of dinosaurs that have been brought back from the dead. It’s a visual spectacle and one that blows the protagonists away. I mean, who wouldn’t be in awe at the sight of a brachiosaurus casually walking by!?
However, this is about as good as things get for the visitors. The serenity of the park starts to collapse in the face of unforeseen consequences. The unique selling point of the park is that it contains creatures which were once extinct.
Various species of dinosaur have been brought back to life such as Tyrannosaur-Rex, Velociraptor and Triceratops. When the visitors talk with the geneticist who led the effort to bring the animals to life, we learn that they were less concerned with the ethics of bringing the animals back. What they were preoccupied with was whether they could.
In short, there wasn’t a debate about whether they should do it. We see the folly in this thinking later in the film when the park’s security systems fail and the dinosaurs run amok.
If they had only engineered plant-eating dinosaurs, there wouldn’t have been an issue. Yet, those in charge of the park decided to bring carnivorous dinosaurs back from the dead, who once set free, cause havoc. While we may not be able to bring back dinosaurs, the possibilities for other animals and, indeed, genetically altering ourselves is possible.
The potential of this genetic power is immense. It needs careful consideration before we wield it. Mankind has the power to remake the human condition, but it should not be done without considering all aspects good and bad.
Already, we have seen this happen. A scientist in China gene-edited two babies changing a gene, CCR5, to protect the children against HIV. This sounds good on the surface, who wouldn’t want their children to be resistant to HIV? But, there are more questions than answers.
Will the babies grow up to be healthy. Will their genetic modifications be passed down the generations if they have children? Is the process of gene-editing safe and ethical?
It’s a pandora box that opens up a wealth of possibilities, some of which are terrifying. For instance, if the practice becomes widespread, the rich will likely be the only ones able to afford it. This opens up the door to a future where embryos are edited in vitro to protect against any diseases, to boost intelligence and physical strength.
This would effectively create two-tiers of humans, with those at the bottom inferior to this new breed of ‘superhuman’ in every way. There is no saying what the effect on humanity could be, although it could be along the lines of the film Gattaca, where humans whose genetics are considered inferior are discriminated against.
Science advances at a fast pace, the progress in a short space of time can be astounding. However, as Jurassic Park shows, we have to consider the ethical implications of such changes before we go ahead with them.
Another interesting aspect of the film is the park’s reliance on technology. The park is controlled by a state of the art computer system which, in turn, is controlled by a few employees to save costs. As impressive as the system is, it’s not without significant bugs that need to be fixed.
While the system works fine when in operation if it’s switched off, it’s no good to anyone. This is what happens when one of the employees, Dennis Nedry, shuts down certain parts of the system, including the electronic fences that keep the T-Rex in its paddock, so he can steal embryos for a rival competitor to the operators of the park.
The fallacy of relying on a computers system with minimal employees is shown when the park collapses and the dinosaurs run riot. The viability of the park, the reason the visitors were brought along, is exposed.
In the years since we have become more and more reliant on technology, yet do we know how it all works?
Algorithms are a greater part of our lives than ever but do they improve it? The Facebook algorithm, for example, just shows you more of what you like creating an echo chamber. Firmly ensconced in this chamber, you rarely see anything that contradicts your world view leading to an increased belief in the supremacy of your views.
Then, there are the data breaches that have taken place on Facebook and the question of just how much information Google and Facebook hold on all of us. None of us has willingly consented to this, but we accept it as part of the bargain of browsing the internet. These sites are convenient. They make it easier to find what we want and keep in touch with our friends, but at what cost?
Then there is the literal cost of keeping us safe. As we have seen with the coronavirus pandemic, countries that are unprepared and cut corners pay a huge price. This is the case in the UK, where a 2016 report on the country’s ability to respond to a pandemic was severely questioned. Instead of the report being acted on, it was suppressed, and four years later the country has the worst death toll in Europe.
Costing is an important part of any venture. Yet, it’s important to consider the implications of what could happen if things go wrong. Often, the human cost is much greater than the financial one in such scenarios. This is the case in Jurassic Park.
The lack of a failsafe and trust placed in one man to debug the computer system results in dinosaurs overrunning the island which leads to the deaths of numerous people. Had more time been taken to consider the potential consequences of such an approach, spending a little more money may have seemed sensible.
All of this points back to the flaw the film exposes. The belief that man can transcend nature and create systems which are stable and require minimal human input.
An uncertain future
The geneticists in Jurassic Park did not stop to consider the implications of the work they were undertaking. This lack of critical insight into what they were creating led to devastation. Today, scientists face the same dilemma.
Advances in genetics and artificial intelligence place humans at a new frontier. One where reality could become indistinguishable from what we know today.
We are like children who have discovered their father’s hammer in his toolbox. It’s fun to swing it around but when the swing hits something we didn’t intend to, the consequences are real.
Going forward, it’s important to consider what could happen, instead of just doing ploughing ahead because we can. Is it ethical to alter the DNA of children before they’re born? They can’t consent to the future they are bestowed with and if there are unforeseen consequences that come from these alterations, they are the ones that will live with the damage.
Likewise, the motto of Facebook was to “move fast and break things.” They achieved their goal but, at the time, the average joe had no idea their data was being used by 3rd party developers or that Facebook was tracking their movements across the internet.
No conversation took place about whether this was right or whether they should do it, they did it because they could. The policy of acting first and asking questions later is a dangerous one when it comes to novel technology.
As Jurassic Park shows, once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no way of getting it back in. Science and technology are progressing at an ever-increasing rate but the ethics associated with these two fields is lagging behind.
This scenario works for a short period, but as Jurassic Prak shows it’s often an illusion and when that illusion shatters, all hell breaks loose. The questions that need to be asked going forward do not concern whether we can accomplish these scientific and technological leaps, they concern whether we should.