Frankenstein lives on

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Science  12 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6372, pp. 137
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9167


It was 200 years ago that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was published. Over the decades, this gothic tale has captured the popular imagination through the numerous theater productions and films it inspired. The story is commonly taken to imply a dire warning about the dangers of scientific hubris. Just mention the name Frankenstein and laypersons think of scientists “playing God.” In the common view, the inevitable consequence of Frankenstein's alleged transgression—bestowing life on inanimate matter—was that he created a monster that would wreak havoc on his family and friends. Frankenstein's name is repeatedly invoked in debates about emerging technologies like biotech, nanotech, synthetic biology, and artificial intelligence. However, the view of Shelley's story as a cautionary tale about scientific hubris, although dominant, is only one possible interpretation. Her novel, actually, is a multilayered story full of ambivalences and much subtler than most Hollywood versions. It naturally lends itself to diverse interpretations.