John Michael Crichton was born in Chicago in October 1942. Educated at Harvard, Crichton paid his way through medical school there by writing thrillers under various pseudonyms. After graduation, he published his first full-length novel under his own name, The Andromeda Strain (1969), which was a bestseller. Although Crichton has written in numerous contexts, his most famous works, such as Jurassic Park (1990), combine contemporary technical and theoretical scientific findings with fast-paced, mystery or thriller plots. His books have been translated into thirty languages and been made into eleven films. Crichton also created and produced the popular television series of the late 1990s, ER. In 2000, a newly discovered small dinosaur was named after him: Bienosaurus crichtoni.
By the end of the twentieth century, computers had found a place in many American homes. The United States had harnessed nuclear power decades ago, doctors had long since discovered antibiotics, and the scientific community was ready for a new mammoth breakthrough. Genetic engineering loomed as an important field, wide open with possible applications in everything from medicine to cosmetics. Just seven years after the publication of Jurassic Park, British scientists successfully cloned a sheep. Although it certainly would have been impossible for a scenario like the one portrayed in Crichton's novel to have actually occurred in 1990—and most scientists still regard the likelihood of ever successfully cloning dinosaurs slim—the novel gave many readers their first exposure to the possibilities of genetics and bioengineering.
Jurassic Park also popularized the mathematical field of chaos theory. For four centuries, the laws of physics implied a complete connection between cause and effect in nature. It was presumed that it was always possible to make accurate long-term predictions of physical systems, as long as one knew the starting conditions well enough. The discovery of chaotic systems in nature around the turn of the twentieth century all but destroyed that notion. In the novel, Malcolm's interpretation of chaos theory asserts that Jurassic Park, as a complex physical system, will progress in a drastically unpredictable manner that will inevitably result in disaster, regardless of the precautions that have been taken.
Chaos theory and bioengineering ethics were already nascent topics of discussion when Crichton took them on in Jurassic Park. The success of his novel, especially after its release as a major motion picture, vaulted these topics into the global spotlight. Crichton's novel, however, critiques more than merely the large companies that have the potential to abuse the vast power of genetics. In the novel, John Hammond creates a park run almost entirely by the automation of a huge computer system. The system has bugs—defects that prove disastrous over the course of one twenty-four-hour period. Jurassic Park, written at a time when the whole world was computerizing seemingly all aspects of daily life, is also a critique of such incessant modernization and automation. The novel was published just ten years before the predicted turn-of- the-millennium "Y2K" computer disaster had businesses across the globe scrambling to reassess their technological preparedness. Crichton seems prescient and wary of this trend: Malcolm's chaos-theory calculations of catastrophe, in addition to showing off hip scientific lingo, serve as a warning for a society increasingly dependent on technology.
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