It’s Time To Revisit Jurassic Park
In the wake of the increasingly dreadful film series, I thought now would be a unique opportunity to revisit the book, and, more specifically, what it predicted accurately
Futurism is a tricky, desperate thing, unless we’re discussing “Futurama,” which somehow predicted all of today’s bullshit, including the reelection of Richard Nixon. In almost every other example, from Heinlein to Haldeman, predicting the fate of our species is an exercise in making as many predictions as possible, and quietly hoping a few are correct.
Which brings me to Jurassic Park; those of you born after 1997 might not be aware that it was, originally, a novel that delved into programming architecture, how motion sensors work better for security than cameras, and a ton of really weird, technical predictions that, sadly, are unlikely to occur within the foreseeable future (https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2012.11555). I’m not here to revisit the viability of resurrecting dead species; that’s in the care of the San Diego Zoo (seriously, they’re actually collecting and cryogenically storing tissue samples of perilously endangered animals, so future generations will know the majesty of the mighty Rhinopus)(I’m assuming there will be some glitches in the technology). Today, as Chris Pratt collects residuals for playing with unfortunately-rendered CGI dinosaurs, I will revisit Crichton’s original work, to celebrate what he got absolutely right. Because this was literally my favorite book growing up, I’ll be as generous as possible in my interpretations and conclusions. Hey, if we can all claim Bradbury was some crazy genius for predicting big-screen TVs (not exactly a, “And they will have massive, meter-wide televisions for less than a full tank of petrol” statement, it was literally, “When will we be able to afford another entertainment wall”)(which somehow became, “Big screen televisions), and headphones, but gets a pass on widespread book burning (Alabama aside, it’s awfully hard to imagine the FDNY repurposed for exclusively censorship purposes), we can treat Crichton just as gently. And, hey, if you’re reading this, that saves you ten minutes of wondering why women in action movies are always in stiletto heels in these situations. So, here we go with the Big List O’ Stuff Jurassic Park weirdly, accurately predicted. And please, bear in mind that the original book had far more in common with classic “hard” sci-fi films or Stephen King’s work than it did with the film (not a slam on the film; as another person noted, Crichton’s creative aesthetic was almost completely incompatible with Spielberg films).
Cyberwarfare — So, this is kind of a broad interpretation, but we all leap over the how-to’s of hacking in 1990 (when the book was published) which made up an unfortunate number of pages for a book supposedly about dinosaurs running amok in the modern world. Because the action doesn’t really start until page 100 of the book, we all forget that Nedry’s plan to steal dinosaur embryos was the culmination in a multi-year plot of building exploitable loopholes in the park’s security systems that could hide malicious code. Nedry then used the computer system to ̶r̶i̶g̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶e̶l̶e̶c̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶o̶r̶a̶n̶g̶e̶ ̶r̶a̶c̶i̶s̶t̶ ̶S̶o̶v̶i̶e̶t̶ ̶a̶g̶e̶n̶t̶ disable the security systems surrounding the prized embryos. In 1990, predicting that computer glitches would have fatal outcomes is akin to my predictions that immunotherapy for glioma patients will be abandoned in a decade — it’s specialist knowledge that requires a lot of subcultural experience, but it’s hardly a prophecy. Crichton gets points for understanding that such glitches could, eventually, become espionage or larceny tools, especially in such a specific way (that a cyber attack could both aid the commission of the crime, cover it up, and most people would, during the crime, write it off as, “Eh, computers”), in an era when most of us thought the Apple III was some sort of magic box that could control reality. Okay, I’m exaggerating that a little, but I was there; computer knowledge outside of MIT was primeval, we regularly burned amateur code writers as witches.
The rise of scam capitalism/the tech bro — Everyone familiar with the films recognizes Donald Gennaro as a cowardly, greedy lawyer; in the novel, he’s deliberately sent by the law firm representing Hammond’s investors to investigate the park’s safety and legal exposure after several construction workers are devoured by dinosaurs, with the explicit directions that the park’s investors will tolerate no more additional costs without seeing a single cent of profit. At this point in the book, even though Hammond has supposedly given proof of his company’s dino-cloning accomplishments to his investors (and, one presumes, the law firm Gennaro works for), in the business world, he’s much better-known for his flamboyant showmanship and using investor money to buy other companies as a means of accessing their technology and patents to further his own goals. Imagine the character with a dreadful haircut and daddy issues, and he’d fit right in with Elon Musk and Peter Thiel. Hammond was eventually eaten alive by his own creations, so the book also suggests a solution to the plague of venture capitalists that have embedded in American society. That law firm Gennaro represents, BTW? They have a major stake in InGen (Hammond’s company), because he traded them equity in the company in exchange for legal services. I do not know the exact history of Facebook, but I believe Zuckerberg made similar deals with corporate entities — IPS stock in the future for services/goods now — in the early days of Facebook.
Increasing replacement of human workers with mechanization, driven by computing power. This is another highly specific point that we all miss, because dinosaurs. By 1990, there was already a ton of historical evidence suggesting that companies will, inevitably, take any and all reasonable measures to cut payroll costs. The book forecast a dark future in which companies start taking increasingly insane and unreasonable measures to avoid giving money to those filthy, revolting peasants. How absurd, you ask? In the book, hyper-automation and computerization allow the park to run with only 24 full-time employees. Because we fell in love with a non-fly-mutant Jeff Goldblum in the film; we ignore that was the central premise of his doom-filled predictions — not that cloning dinosaurs for entertainment would end in blood and tears, but introducing so many unknowns into one system without appropriate human oversight and intervention would lead to horrific outcomes. And the book is full of little, “Well, if they’d just paid for a human employee to sit there, that would not have happened,” moments. Quick case in point, if Hammond had simply paid a security guard to sit in front of the embryo fridge, Nedry’s elaborate schemes to hack his way into a freezer would’ve been pointless.
Increasing hostility between employees and management — In the books, the villainous hacker, Dennis Nedry is only marginally less-evil than John Hammond, who is almost cartoonishly evil. How evil? Well, the reason why Nedry turns to Hammond’s competition in the first place is because Hammond demands Nedry’s own technology company begin doing more and more unpaid work after Hammond reneges on the original contract. Instead of negotiating for overtime and around-the-clock work until the park is finished, Hammond spreads rumors to Nedry’s other clients that Nedry is an unreliable layabout, actually costing him money, and forcing Nedry to come directly to Jurassic Park to fix computer problems John Hammond didn’t think to detail in his original contract. Crichton casually mentions that Hammond also threatens legal action to get his way, so we might add Abuse of Process by the Ultra-rich, prior to the 2020 elections to the list of weirdly-accurate predictions. How utterly dreadful is John Hammond, megalomaniac employer? Well, in the final thought process detailed by the book, Hammond is mentally compiling a list of his employee’s failings. He is so emotionally invested in this petty exercise that he actually fails to notice that he’s being mobbed by procompsognathi. As a kid, I thought it was a weird little moment; as an adult, I can appreciate how completely bonkers it is to make a little “vengeance list” as one’s adulthood ambitions are literally burning. But, that sort of, “Do unto others before others do unto you” philosophy is readily-seen in any video of Amazon employees peeing into bottles rather than take a five-minute break. As a consumer, I will go on record and say that I am willing to tolerate a slight price increase in order to ensure that there is a 0% chance anything I buy was ever exposed to urine. Thankfully, we didn’t get that scene in Jurassic Park, presumably because Crichton naively thought that dozens of deaths and tens of millions of dollars lost would result in a company being disbanded, and our reality has somehow become darker and more dystopian than the guy who wrote Andromeda Strain could contemplate. To be fair, I’m kind of with Spielberg on this particular decision, it’s awfully hard to imagine Richard Attenborough as a blood-soaked venture capitalist, and, if you want genuinely sympathetic characters, you kind of need a better moral compass than, “slightly less-likely to disembowel you than the monsters.” Also, even though anyone who’s been in a Macy’s or Sears on Black Friday could predict, “Hey, I think there’s some animosity amongst the employees, I bet that will fester if not nipped in the bud,” Crichton gets futurism points for predicting that it would devolve into “Bad marriage about to implode” levels, such as buying Twitter to kill that account that tracks billionaire’s planes.
Increasing emotional pleas and nepotism instead of political action or lobbying — Take note of this moment as the one and only time I advocated in favor of political lobbying, but only in the context that bribing Senators seems like a slightly better option than sacrificing one’s grandchildren to capitalism. In the film, the kids are cute audience stand-ins for the grandeur and joy of bringing back long-extinct critters. In the book, it is explained in a very dark moment, that Hammond deliberately brought his grandchildren there to sway the experts from their objective assessments by presenting the childlike innocence and joy that dinosaurs might bring small children, and, presumably, endangering one’s family is cheaper than paying off local politicians to write in civil liability exemptions (ironically, if InGen just labeled the dinosaurs as personal defense weapons, the GOP would insist on velociraptors in every public school). I’ll admit that, as powerful as an appeal to emotion might be, using one’s family to sway opinion is Page 1 of the “Hilariously corrupt politician trope” playbook. Using Javanka to present an almost-human face of the Trump Organization is never explicitly predicted in the book, but, weirdly enough, Ivanka is actually in this book.
Plutocracy — Remember that classic, charming line from the film, “Everyone in the world should have the right to see these animals?” Not only is that line nonexistent in the book, it’s a sentiment never expressed in the book. In classic sci-fi fashion, the book goes on 30-page lectures and asides about technical minutiae. One of those screeds is dedicated to how biotechnology is far too expensive to be used in a clinical/pharmaceutical sense (in the spirit of fairness, it’s unlikely that Crichton foresaw that our medical system would somehow figure out how to milk the American public for far, far more money than Hollywood could even begin to dream of, let alone what particularly cunning grad students would do with abandoned biotech patents), and will be relegated to entertainment; the only industry with the funds to pay for that technology. That line in the film from Gennaro, “We can charge whatever we want — a million dollars a day, ten million dollars a day?” Yeah, that was originally said by Hammond in the novel, as a way to justify his park becoming a sunk cost fallacy. John Arnold, in a grim prediction about Hammond’s increasingly irrational behavior says, “Absolutely nothing will stop him from opening this park to the public. Or Donald Trump’s kids, anyway.” What, you thought Ivanka and the Wonder Twins wouldn’t be indirectly involved in a searing indictment of end-stage capitalism? In the book, it’s explicitly stated, multiple times, that the park is only going to be opened for the super-rich, or people who enjoy permanently traumatizing children (I’m sure that Venn Diagram is a circle). Crichton wisely decides to end the novel before exploring what a world designed exclusively for the rich would look like, but I would wager that would look eerily like 2022.
Valuing Capital Over Human Life — In the book, it’s explained that Henry Wu had the opportunity to make multiple genetic modifications to make the animals slower, more docile, and easier to kill; and he specifically asked Hammond that these changes be made for both safety, and to meet audience expectations (in one of those lengthy asides, Wu points out that everyone who interacts with the dinosaurs complains that they move too fast, and that not only endangers workers, it upsets initial test audiences). Hammond scuttles these because he’s fixated on making more dinosaurs, always. Hammond’s logic is that more dinosaurs means more customers, and, if an existing dinosaur dies, there’s a replacement. He also cans Muldoon’s suggestion of getting actual weapons for a worst-case scenario, because he doesn’t want anyone destroying his very expensive pets. In the book, the exact moment that the Velociraptors escape, Muldoon heads to his private contraband stock of guns, and Hammond’s first response is, “What are you going to do to my animals?” It’s not exactly a one-for-one prediction, but everyone must recall the dreadful summer of 2020 when black people decided that they’d grown tired of cops killing them without probable cause. The feeble white man’s counterpoint was, “They’re destroying businesses and property! They’re just impoverishing themselves!” which overlooked the unfortunate fact that it’s awfully hard to run a successful business if the cops regularly kill one’s customers and employees. We weren’t worried about the degradation of America’s cops into a neofeudal mercenary force that existed solely to put down peasant revolts; we were worried about the money, and those poor, innocent buildings. Again, our collective sentiment was far darker, apathetic, and, frankly, evil, than Crichton could probably imagine.