Portrayal of Technology in Prometheus

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Work and Wealth

Prometheus provides a look at a world in which space travel is dominated by corporate interests. This is particularly relevant now, as American space travel becomes dominated by private corporations such as SpaceX. This film shows some possible implications of long-term, corporate space travel, as well as some of the technological innovations that might make such travel possible.


Prometheus uses a few different automation technologies to support the crew’s mission. These include David, an android who monitors the ship while the crew is in stasis; a surgical robot; and several mapping drones. David presents a rather interesting case. He is a type of robot that could potentially cause some of the greatest concern: a machine that nearly perfectly replicates humans, and therefore could potentially replace humans in most jobs. Despite this, the manner in which he is used in the film is remarkably consistent with the traditional uses of robotics: conducting tasks too dangerous or unpleasant for humans. Some of his specific actions may have been questionable (see Information Privacy), but his main mission at the beginning of the film represents an ethical use of robotics. In fact, given that the crew apparently needed to be kept in stasis for the trip, David’s existence may have made the entire mission possible.

Space travel and isolation

The type of space travel used in Prometheus requires people to spend years isolated from the rest of society. This situation, in which workers, most motivated primarily by monetary incentives, work in an isolated environment dominated by their employer with little government oversight, has some notable parallels in the real world. In the 1800’s in the US, mining and milling companies often housed workers in company towns, and today, fishing crews often spend weeks at sea with little government oversight. In each case, workers have sometimes been subject to abuses by their employers, and the actions shown in the film suggest that some of the same issues may be present. [1][2] Several employees die over the course of the film in ways that could have been prevented through better workplace safety practices, and one person is directly killed by their employer in a quarantine effort. These actions and others were clearly violations of professional ethics: management ignored the legal issues raised by choosing to kill an employee (ACM SECE 3.03), did not accurately communicate the risks of the mission to their employees (ACM SECE 5.06), and likely violated the law by killing an employee (ACM SECE 6.06).[3]

  1. Carlson, Linda. Company towns of the Pacific Northwest, p. 104. University of Washington Press, 2003. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.wpi.edu/lib/wpi/reader.action?docID=3444573&ppg=110
  2. Urbana, I. (2015, July 17). “Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship.” The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/world/stowaway-crime-scofflaw-ship.html
  3. ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Task Force on Software Engineering Ethics and Professional Practices. “Software Engineering Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.” Version 5.2. 2015. http://www.acm.org/about/se-code