The Top 5 "Crazy" Michael Crichton Ideas That Actually Came True

By Melissa Lafsky | November 7, 2008 5:09 pm

andromeda strainGiven the recent death of best-selling author and sci-fi pioneer Michael Crichton, we thought it was the perfect time to reflect on some of his most innovative and fascinating ideas…that just happened to have come true.

5. Talking Gorillas: Congo (1980) was more than just another notch into the decent-book-cum-awful-movie belt. It also highlighted what was once a novel concept: that apes could use human language to communicate. Cute little Amy, with her sign language glove (which appeared in the movie but not the book), was loosely based on Koko the gorilla, whose actual linguistic abilities continue to be debated.

Since then, there’s been Kanzi, a bonobo who “apparently has learned more than 3,000 spoken English words and can produce (by means of lexigrams) novel English sentences and comprehend English sentences he has never heard before.” Granted, those who doubted before remain unconvinced.

4. Self-Replicating Robots: In Prey (2002), Crichton created a world of self-replicating nanorobots with rudimentary intelligence and predatory instincts, who spend several hundred pages running amok and causing all sorts of mayhem.

Today, researchers have developed robots that can physically self assemble, and even produce copies of themselves. Granted, getting to that next stage—manufacturing more of themselves from raw materials—is substantially harder.

3. Superbugs from Space: Crichton’s debut novel, The Andromeda Strain (1969), terrified readers with the ultimate biohazard: a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism that infects human blood and mutates like wildfire to defy containment.

Lucky for us, the chances of the next pandemic hurling in from space are slim to none. But the book brought the concept of bio-safety levels to far more advanced heights. As for the next great bug, not only have we created antibiotic-resistant superbugs here on Earth, we’ve also discovered that some strains become more virulent when sent into space. (Though fear not: They become far less deadly once they’ve made the journey home.)

2. Brain Implants: Crichton’s 1972 thriller The Terminal Man was far ahead of its time. The hero, suffering from “thought seizures” after a car accident, undergoes a procedure in which electrodes are implanted in his brain. Unfortunately, since the electrodes also stimulate his pleasure center, the implant winds up doing far more harm than good.

Today, electrode-studded swim caps let people control robots using only their thoughts, and brain implants are not only real but can be used to help deaf people hear and blind people see—and may be the future of treatment for depression and other mental disorders.

1. Cloning Dead (Or Even Extinct) Animals: First prize goes to the eponymous Jurassic Park (1990), in which science-minded billionaire John Hammond concocts a scheme to clone dinosaurs using DNA extracted from prehistoric mosquitoes. The dinos are created/hatched, the park is opened, and the inevitable happens. Dinner, anyone?

Skip forward to today, where scientists have successfully cloned mice that have been dead and frozen for 16 years. There’s even talk of cloning long-extinct woolly mammoths. And let’s not forget cryogenically frozen humans (Ted Williams, we hardly knew ye).

Image: Screenshot from A&E’s television version of The Andromeda Strain.

  • reuben

    Superbug from space might not be too far fetched. One of the theories regarding the flu epidemic of 1918 was that it might have come from outer space. The reason is because of the rapid spread across the continent when the fastest travel in those days was on ship.

  • Pingback: The Michael Crichton story ideas that actually came true

  • e

    One of the greatest thriller and sci-fi writers. The passing of this mega-bestselling author has gone almost unnoticed. I suspect because he angered the media establishment by taking on the global warming hysteria in his final years.

  • shortlink

    Crichton provided a glimpse into a future that has become more real than fantasy. Odey, his work in State of Fear was a good reminder that Science should not be based on fear or fantasy but on reproducible facts. Some have misread his novel to be an attack on Global Warming, but as most readers know, he was attaching the rush to judgment and lack of skepticism being shown by many in the public.

    I hope both his science fiction and his call to honest skepticism in science are remembered equally.

    I will miss his writing.

  • tenmilekyle

    Crichton was a right wing hack that surfed on the “what if” conversations that surround hard science. He also said that global warming was a myth–and was considered a source of truth for the Bush administration in regards to that. I mean, really, try and wrap your noodle around that.

  • Holly

    Most of these ideas weren’t Crichton’s. Off the top of my head, Project X, a film from 1987, featured chimpanzee sign language. Self-replicating robots (nanobots) were used by authors from Spider Robinson to Neal Stephenson long before 2002 came around. Crichton’s 1972 thriller was not only not ahead of its time, Larry Niven’s Ringworld, a science fiction classic which featured the “tasp,” an electronic implant into the pleasure center of the brain, came out two years before. And cloning and “superbugs from space” had been around as hoary science fiction cliches before Crichton ever touched a typewriter.

    Come on now. Perhaps he featured these ideas in his books, but he certainly didn’t come up with them. Crichton was an entertaining hack, and his books made good movies. Let’s leave it at that.

  • Pingback: Links for Friday, Nov. 7 - Saturday, Nov. 8 | mindpollution.org

  • A. Simov

    -1 for misleading. These weren’t Crichton’s ideas, he just popularized them. All of the 5 items were imagined by earlier writers. The most you can say about Crichton is right there in the first paragraph, that he “highlighted what was once a novel concept.”

    And his writing really wasn’t all that great. Kind of the Clive Cussler of sci-fi.

  • John Botham

    Wow, seems like he was a pretty crazy dude, huh.

    Jess
    http://www.anolite.echoz.com

  • http://www.jonkepler.com Jon Kepler

    I wouldn’t say that a true self-replicating robot has really ever been made (the raw materials problem is pretty insurmountable).

  • Zach

    One of the greatest Sci-Fi writers? Really? I think that’s being rather generous.

    And as for “taking on global warming hysteria”, anyone can invent bad science and misconstrue fact to plug an agenda. So there’s no real points for him “fighting the good fight” there either; while most of his novels were engaging, his attempt at addressing Global Warming was seriously lacking substance and definitely was not the hallmark of his career.

  • Pingback: Weekend Coffee Break « The High Definite

  • http://www.thaimed.us ThaiMed

    I wouldn’t say one of the greatest sci-fi writers, but a very good writer nonetheless…

  • http://www.ntopics.com ntopics

    Science fiction that turns into science fact?
    These are really weird, but I still like to
    hear about them.

    thanks from tony

  • Pingback: The Top 5 “Crazy” Michael Crichton Ideas That Actually Came True « Alex Torex Blog

  • Pingback: The Top 5 “Crazy” Michael Crichton Ideas That Actually Came True « Alex Torex Blog

  • PissyUpLateDude

    45 Million year old Yeast was taken from amber and made into beer.

    http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2008/09/23/ancient-yeast-beer.html

  • Badger3k

    Agreed – he didn’t come up with them, just popularized them (although I think more people are aware of the movies than the books, even if some, like Congo, were pretty horrible). He gets credit for coming up with talking gorillas, even though Koko was the basis of the idea? I didn’t know that’s how things worked. I guess I came up with the idea of motorized vehicles that burned hydrocarbons, since I just wrote about them. Seriously? I am also not sure how Superbugs from Space can be said to have come true if we don’t have any? I guess that means Roddenberry’s Warp Drive is true because someone wrote a paper on how it is plausible.

    Crichton was an OK writer, but he isn’t in the same league as Asimov and others.

  • Pingback: Crazy Michael Crichton Ideas That Weren’t so Crazy - Ideas Blog - NYTimes.com

  • Claire

    Regarding #4 “Prey” – consider Morgellons Disease (see Staningerreport.com)

  • http://google simon thong

    I regained my interest in science when Crichton came onto the scene. Jurassic Park was entertaining and enthralling. His take on global warming is illuminating. Yes, he isn’t in the same league as Asimov and others; he was in a league all his own!

  • elsie

    Crichton was an excellent writer and should be remembered as such. He may not have been the original creator of these ideas, but he always researched every aspect – no-one can say he wasn’t thorough! – and he presented them well, and in realistic, or at least easily-imaginable, scenarios. At the very least he got people thinking, debating and talking. Look what everyone is doing here. And if he was a bad writer then he wouldn’t have such an enormous fanbase. He should be remembered in a good light, and for the massive contribution he has made to modern science fiction, because face it non-fans, his books are not going anywhere. RIP MC.

  • Patrick

    Crichton is an awesome writer. He’s like a philosophical scientist. Of coarse he didn’t come up with all of his ideas, but he understood them amazingly well and brought it to life. He does exaggerate for the sake of the book, but his science remains strong. So many people misunderstand this guy. As for State of Fear, he’s not saying global warming isn’t happening, but proposing that more scientific study must be done on it’s effects and causes!! All the science was valid, however way he proposed it or was misunderstood. It wasn’t ALL accurate, but come on! Is anything is Space Odyssey taken more accurate? I say he is definitely among the greatest sci-fi writers, although a very different approach is taken by him so many may disagree.

  • ostenh

    I couldn’t help getting the feeling that a lot in “Prey” was taken directly from Stanislaw Lem’s “The Invincible”, one of Lem’s best in my opinion. Read it if you haven’t already!

  • RevDon

    His debut novel was not “Andromeda Strain”, it was “A Case of Need”.
    ACoN was not ‘original’ either, but is a must-read. It is a redress of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, except instead of interracial rape it concerns a doctor who is suspected of performing a botched abortion, pre-Roe v. Wade.

    Sadly ACoN has been taken out of print and is not listed as one of Chrichton’s works on book leafs. It is definitely worth finding a used copy.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »