"Exactly 200 years ago, in 1816, a teen-aged girl called Mary Shelley began writing the story of Frankenstein in a villa in Cologny, a short walk from where the World Economic Forum now has its offices. Her ghoulish but subtle tale featured a scientist bringing a sentient, suffering creature to life from parts found in the “dissecting room and the slaughter-house".
“Frankenstein” was written at the end of the First Industrial Revolution, capturing the fears and squeamishness of a society going through massive transformations whilst making its first forays into surgery. The book took inspiration from earlier critics of the dawn of industrialisation, among them John Milton and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.Today, Shelley’s Frankenstein is seen as the start of a genre, the first work of science fiction. By imaginatively combining the rigour of science with the freedom of fiction, the genre plays a big role in expressing the hopes and fears we project into our creations.
The best sci-fi stories mix two ingredients. The first is great science which sometimes leads to surprising accuracy: Jules Verne imagined a propeller-driven aircraft in the early 19th century, when balloons were the best that aviation had to offer. In the 1960s, Arthur C. Clarke envisioned the iPad, and Ray Bradbury the Mars landing. It may just be a matter of time until “Samantha”, the AI voice in Spike Jonze’s film Her, will be real, or until we bump into a version of “Ava”, the humanoid robot from Alex Garland’s “Ex Machina”.
The second ingredient is a keen understanding of contemporary hopes and fears. This is what makes these books and films great tools for dissecting the sentiments of an era. The two most successful sci-fi stories ever, George Lucas’ Star Wars and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, are amongst the best examples of how pop culture combined perceptions of technological progress with contemporary hopes and fears."