NYT asks which sci-fi work is most prescient today: I think GATTACA

GATTACAThe New York Times recently asked 6 people what science fiction movie or novel is most prescient today.

The responses ran the gamut: Fahrenheit 451, The Martian, The Fifth Season, The Body Snatchers, Book of the New Sun, and Use of Weapons.

To me of those 6, the best case can be made for Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, who was very good at looking into a crystal ball and being right. The other 5 works, not so much.

My answer would have been GATTACA.

In our CRISPR-ified new world, human genetic modification seems more a question of if and why rather than when. Assisted reproduction and human embryo selection by preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) are being further turbo-charged by more specific genetic selection procedures. These new iterations of genetic embryo selection are likely to evolve to the point where parents are given the choice of embryos ranked by something akin to “overall genetic fitness”. There certainly is a feeling of us being on the cusp of a new eugenics. There’s a definite GATTACA feel to all of these real trends.

A tipping factor for governmental and corporate intrusion into our genetics may turn out to be a push for lower healthcare costs. It seems inevitable that both our personal and professional lives are going to be impacted in profound ways by genomic DNA.

Ironically, some commentators on CRISPR’s potential use on humans get particularly grumpy if anyone brings up GATTACA or Brave New World. You can read more about my sense of literature’s links to our CRISPR world in my new book, GMO Sapiens. For 6 more days you can get 30% off there on the book by entering the code WS15XMAS30.

4 thoughts on “NYT asks which sci-fi work is most prescient today: I think GATTACA


  1. Samebfor me, Welcome to GATTACA, that’s why I will use the movie as a support to talk about stem cells and genome editing to young junior school students. Funny thing, if you pause when Irene read Jerome/Vincent’s sequence, one of the first disease if not the first is A1AT deficiency, a disease fro which genome editing on stem cells has beenndone and published.


  2. Fahrenheit 451 would be a contender from my point of view. The danger of mindlessly surrendering dignity and depth and independent thought for the shallow gratification of “the shell” and standardized behaviour/thinking is what makes it relevant today. (IMHO, Bradbury totally overestimated the need for coercion and underestimated human vulnerability for the easy path to weak mindedness.)

    I can’t remember which one of his books it was, perhaps “Roughnecks, Rolling Stones and Rousabouts”, but that old WW1 warrior John A Lee lamented the passing of “a world of unstandardised men”.

    The more modern movie that expands this theme would be The Matrix — where humanity is a standardized part of the network — which does not so much predict as reflect our in-built vulnerability to virtual reality, so conveniently stupefying and gratifying compared to the real world.

    I have not (yet) seen GATTACA but I guess it takes us to the next level, where we ourselves become bodily-virtual, not real. Creations not of nature, but aside from nature.

    I wonder what one of the old stoic philosophers, someone like Marcus Aurelius, would make of us now?


  3. Not having seen GATTACA, I’d probably go with Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain. She was a bit overoptimistic as to when the technology to easily manipulate the genome would occur, but not by much (the book had extensive genome modification occurring in 2008). And there’s obviously a lot of sci-fi handwavium needed to explain the Sleepless. But Kress is not really interested in the technical details so much as in the societal effects of how unmodified humans will respond to the sudden introduction of a minority group of super-healthy, hyperproductive sleepless people.

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