Be careful what you wish for. That seems to be the underlying theme in many a sci-fi movie and thriller where we’ve created living beings that careen wildly out of control for entertainment’s sake, captivating audiences sucking down sodas and chomping on popcorn in chilly movie theaters, delighting in their cinematic escape, even if only for a couple of hours. The idea of creating life in a lab is certainly nothing new, hailing back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as a precursor to modern science fiction, along with demonstrating our interest in technology and its applications in books and movies—even on the darkest levels.
Movies offering technology as the focus are all too common today, along with predictable storylines, but as the actors become edgier and the special effects even grander, we still eat it up at the box office. And as everything comes full circle, technology that is part of the story today often helps create it as well with 3D printing now playing a versatile role in film from creating props in Star Wars to helping with stop-motion animation.
A 3D printed type of sentient being is the center of the story, however, in a new movie by Luke Scott, who will probably soon be able to shake having his name followed with ‘Ridley Scott’s son.’ Of course, it is going to be a source of fascination for many that the acclaimed director’s progeny is following in his footsteps, offering up an intense storyline regarding artificial intelligence and the blurred lines with humanity therein. While Sir Ridley is most widely known for movies like Alien and Blade Runner (not to mention Gladiator, Thelma and Louise, and recently The Martian), Luke has chosen to break out with a concept that has even some real-life scientists feeling uncomfortable, as he discussed in a recent interview with Inverse.
Morgan is about a synthetic human prototype being raised up in an isolated lab area in the mountains. And it wouldn’t be very interesting if she was just your run-of-the-mill obedient sort, so of course this character is dangerous in that she possesses brilliance and strength—but she is technically only five years old.
An obvious connection to bioprinting is intimated when it comes to the question of how she was created. While it is not directly addressed, the scientists in the movie do explain to the corporate fixer at hand who is dealing with the impending situation, that Morgan was ‘bioengineered with synthetic DNA.’ This character of course grew from newborn status at an accelerated rate, graduating to walking and talking and then playing chess, all in a timeframe at which most of us would still be buying onesies for a baby and proudly displaying it in a Baby Bjorn. Morgan wasn’t that sort of baby though, and the question began to arise as to whether she should be allowed to own the humanness that they gifted her with from birth.
Prior to seeing this movie, it’s both interesting and valuable to know where Luke was coming from with this very modern character.
“She’s not an android or a robot. She is basically an artificial human being made from genetic material. So the thing is genetically modified. It’s loosely based on actual processes so you know that they have this kind of experiment in mind might well be possible. She’s very much a human being like you and I,” said Scott.
She’s also fond of tantrums, and like an errant toddler, attempts to begin running the household or uh, compound. The tagline ‘Don’t Let it Out’ becomes understandable as chaos ensues, and suddenly Morgan is not a very good advertisement for such genetic modifications—or as Scott describes it, 3D printed genes.
The budding filmmaker’s exploration into the world of AI and genetic engineering began as he learned about research at the Singularity University and read up on their work with what he refers to as a genetic 3D printer.
“That then took me to a research at Queens University in Belfast, where I actually sat and talked to the research scientist there about the possibility. And he expressed a level of discomfort with the discussion, but suggested that this in fact is very possible and more than likely — much more likely than say the invention of an android or a stable clone,” said Scott.
While of course there is mass appeal with this 3D printed human gone rogue, a deeper conversation erupts, regarding whether or not she should have human rights, and how those dynamics work when a corporation has created a human in a lab. Scott believes it’s completely feasible for something like this to be going on already in government or corporate inner dealings, explaining:
“The spooky thing is that it actually might be happening. And I can’t tell you for sure, but I know that with just the research that I’ve done that I can’t help but think that there’s got to some big tech company out there that has a little facility buried somewhere that has these poor creatures, whether it’s a genetic creature or a facsimile of a human being, living there and trying to figure itself out.”
I haven’t even seen the movie yet, but my spine is certainly tingling at the thought of human-like lab creatures really cloistered away somewhere. Also, of course, if this were to be true and it is indeed actually possible to manufacture people, what are corporations planning to do with them? And will the military be building up an army of emotionless, exponentially strong killers? We’ve seen that theme before, and enough so that one must wonder if eventually real life will imitate fiction, as we’ve been trained all along to think that’s where we should be going.
“The real moral and ethical question about this, though, is that will it create a sort of superclass of beings over time that will see to the subjection of the human?” questions Scott.
As he offers exploration into these ideas with a movie that will certainly be provoking many conversations as audiences file out of theaters post-viewing, Scott also feels certain these technological powers will be abused in the future. Today we see bioprinting beginning to take a strong hold in science, even already offering more rudimentary items in comparison like a 3D printed ear made of a biocompatible silicone, or 3D printed liver tissue. While there are certainly many extremely bright and enthusiastic designers, engineers, and scientists on board with the printing of cells and eventually organs, we have yet to come across a mad scientist who seems to using 3D powers for evil; however, movies such as Morgan can certainly be used as a cautionary—and thoughtful—tale for all. Morgan opens this Friday, September 2; check out the trailer below for a hint of what the movie is all about (and even check out an AI-created movie trailer!) Discuss further over in the 3D Printed Morgan forum at 3DPB.com.[Source: Inverse]