By Daniel Taylor
Facebook has amassed a gigantic database of human intelligence from its millions of users. This information has been used by police in the arrest of suspects, and is milked by marketers. What if a similar system gathered genetic information?
In 2005 it was revealed in a book called The Google Story that Dr. Craig Venter, known for his creation of synthetic lifeforms, was in discussions with Larry Page and Sergey Brin [founders of Google] to:
“…generate a gene catalogue to characterize all the genes on the planet and understand their evolutionary development. Geneticists have wanted to do this for generations… Google will build up a genetic database, analyze it, and find meaningful correlations for individuals and populations.”
Google has been funding a program to do just that called 23 and me. In 2006 the organization was co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google.
Will the general public be acclimated to share their genetic information online as they were with Facebook to share personal information? Facebook has altered the public perception of privacy. As Time magazine reported in 2010, “The willingness of Facebook’s users to share and overshare — from descriptions of our bouts of food poisoning (gross) to our uncensored feelings about our bosses (not advisable) — is critical to its success.”
A recent article from Discover magazine pointed out that:
“Many researchers believe that personal genomics will really not hit the biomedical sweet spot until you have on the order of a million people sequenced. But even then in the American system how to get a hold of all that information is going to be problematic, since it will likely be decentralized.”
What this article fails to point out is that it has become known that the DNA of newborns has been secretly collected in America for decades. Samples have even been provided to U.S. Military labs. Also present in this issue is the prospect of who own the copyright your DNA.
If the government already has a database of millions of people’s DNA, what function could an organization like 23 and me fulfill?
Managing public perception is perhaps where the answer can be found. Having your DNA in a database to share with your friends in a familiar social network setting is a good way to introduce the masses to the idea. Also, Google is an extension of government agencies. As Facebook has proven, it is much easier to have the general public willingly volunteer their personal information.
The Yale Scientific Magazine announced earlier this month that with the 23 and me genetic social network, “…it is easier than ever for people to find out their genetic risks for diseases, as well as connect with others who share parts of their genome.” It remains to be seen whether 23 and me will become a widespread success like Facebook, but it certainly has a powerful backing. As of last year, 23 and me reached 125,000 users who have submitted gene samples.
Google founder Larry Page met with Craig Venter in California at the Edge billionaires meeting in 2010. Also present were representatives from the State department, Bill Gates, Anne Wojcicki, Bill Joy and dozens of other tech company CEO’s and scientists.
The Edge billionaire meetings have discussed the future of genetic engineering, biocomputation and re-designing humanity. Physicist Freeman Dyson described the individuals leading this group as having god-like power to create entirely new species on earth in a “New Age of Wonder”. He describes them as:
“…a new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet.”
The technological elite are engaged in a mission to attain full spectrum dominance over life and its complex processes, and in the process re-write the genetic code of the planet. The harvest of your genetic information brings this vision a step closer to reality.