Jurassic Park: Theme Analysis
Dangers of Biotechnology and Computer Technology
The overarching themes of this scientific thriller are the dangers associated with genetic engineering and the folly of relying too heavily on computer technology that may fail at crucial moments.
As Crichton makes clear in the Introduction, the implications of genetic engineering cannot be underestimated: “Biotechnology promises the greatest revolution in human history,” he writes. It will completely change every aspect of human life. But this is not being accompanied by any comparable attention to the ethical implications of genetic engineering, or the safety factors involved.
The revolution in genetics is also marked by an alliance between biotech scientists and commercial interests. The aim is to use the latest developments in biotech to make money. Crichton points out that this is the opposite of the traditional way of practicing science, in which scientists were employed by universities and not linked to business interests. Now the best opportunities are given to those who are affiliated with corporations, since that is where the profit lies.
The entire book is an illustration of this critique of the practice of molecular biology in the modern world. Hammond, with his private research foundation, admits that his driving motive is to make millions of dollars. He persuades the graduate-student geneticist Wu not to consider a career in research at a university. Hammond regards universities as a “backwater” (p. 125). He insists to Wu that the future lies with private laboratories that can get on with their work unfettered by the red tape that accompanies any application for funding or new research projects at universities. The same applies, according to Hammond, in the field of computer science.
The scientists at Jurassic Park blind themselves to the possible flaws and dangers in their scheme, which is being conducted by a U.S. corporation at a facility outside the United States, thereby evading what scant controls there are on this kind of research. The book proposes a healthy dose of “chaos theory,” in the form of the mathematician Ian Malcolm, as a corrective to the complacent belief amongst the scientists and entrepreneurs that their plan is foolproof. Chaos theory demonstrates that complex systems will always behave in unpredictable ways.
As the novel shows, this unpredictability of behavior will elude even the most high-tech computer systems. For example, the system that the technicians of Jurassic Park believe to be so super-efficient fails to alert them to the fact that there are more animals in the park than there should be. Only when Malcolm, with his human rather than artificial intelligence, points out that they are asking the wrong question of the computer does the truth come out.
Also, the novel shows the dangers of having only one person who fully understands the workings of the computer system. When Nedry chooses his moment to do his dirty work for the Biosyn company, the others are left helpless. No one else knows enough to fix the computer problems that Nedry leaves behind. This shows the vulnerability of any high-tech operation to computer failure and human error or sabotage.
It can therefore be seen that underlying the fast-paced action in Jurassic Park is a serious theme: a dire warning of the calamitous effects when human knowledge is combined with greed and complacency, and is untempered by wisdom, ethics, or oversight by any responsible body.