It ain't just bits on your laptop, bucko MIT's Technology Review blogger David Ewing Duncan writes about Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of DNA, James Watson.
DNA is, of course, a very compact biotech storage medium - pure information Watson agreed a couple of years ago to have his DNA sequenced and publicly released by 454 Life Sciences. According to Duncan, he's having second thoughts:
I have spent time with Watson and wrote about it in my latest book, and I can tell you that he can be impulsive and brash. Indeed, only after he made the project public did he realize that he might not want the world to know that he could have genes associated with diseases.
Early in the project, Watson asked 454 to delete his results for the apoE gene associated with Alzheimer's disease. Now he may have more disease variants inked out to protect his and his sons' privacy.
I wonder if he will stop there, since in the future, geneticists will refine their knowledge of DNA and might be able to parse out genes that influence everything from, say, neural disorders to behavior quirks such as arrogance or a quick temper--both of which Watson has been accused of.
A human is just DNA's way of making more DNA Here in America, with our hopelessly broken health care "system" - Motto: You can buy better but you can't pay more! - insurance companies will happily shun you for much less than an Alzheimer's gene. Indeed, medical privacy is a sick joke in this country, where by law even bill collectors have access to your medical records.
Massive data storage has many benefits - and some scary implications I'd like to think that a world that preserves photos - or better yet, movies! with sound! - of one's every youthful indiscretion on the web will force the world's angry and judgmental people to lighten up and accept that we are all human and flawed. Eliminating tortured "I smoked but I didn't inhale" circumlocutions in favor of honesty and transparency. Yep, even encouraging people to engage on the issues instead of personal attacks.
And maybe pigs will fly.
The Storage Bits take It is within our grasp to make information immortal through massive, replicated and networked data storage. Yet human culture is largely based upon forgetting that which we'd rather not remember, and not learning what would be impossible to forget.
Genetic privacy isn't written into the Constitution, so many lawyers and ideologues would argue you have no right to it. But isn't America all about new beginnings? About who you are rather than where you came from? About what you can do rather than what your genes - or your college party habits - may say about your past?
James Watson is grappling with these issues today. Tomorrow, all of us will.
Comments welcome, of course.