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C. Christopher Hook
Let Us Prey
Michael Crichton's new novel, Prey, is another of his cautionary tales about humankind's technological hubris. When greed, ambition, arrogance, and an all-too-prevalent ignorance mix with new technology that we lack sufficient wisdom to employ, disaster is bound to follow. Instead of genetics and dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) or extraterrestrial microbes (The Andromeda Strain), humans get their comeuppance this time from a nasty combination of nanotechnology and artificial life.
Like many of Crichton's novels, Prey is really a movie concept preparing for the big screen. Computer-generated images of deadly swarms of nanoparticles, a menacing slow pan of a high-tech plant standing in stark contrast to the surrounding desert, the typecast actors who one-dimensionally populate—and are predictably sacrificed—in Crichton's stories: all this must be dancing in the head of a filmmaker even now.
But in fairness, Crichton doesn't seem to strive for high or thoughtful art. An enormously gifted storyteller with an instinct for hot-button issues, he seeks both to entertain and to scare us into considering prospectively the new technologies we are uncritically creating and embracing. Indeed, in one of the few novels this reviewer has encountered with an author's introduction, Crichton indicates his sincere concern about self-replicating, potentially autonomous, technology.
He is certainly not alone in these concerns. In a world of increasing techno-utopianism, we need blunt reminders that we aren't as smart as we think we are. But to have an actual impact on our thinking and on public discussion, the message must be delivered with credibility, and this is where Prey fails. Indeed, because Crichton flagrantly oversteps himself on several critical issues, many members of the nanotech community have dismissed the book outright, missing the legitimate concerns otherwise raised.
Nanotechnology involves engineering at the nanoscale level—that is, one-billionth of a meter—and manipulating matter ...