The price of sequencing a complete human genome is now about $4-5,000 (with the price point on a steep downward trajectory expected to hit $1,000 and then $100). $1 and cheaper DNA sequences are expected within the next ten years. Humans shed thousands of skin cells every minute. We are DNA transmitters. So there can be no presumption of DNA privacy. There is a synthetic biology revolution 30 years behind the computer revolution. DNA can be printed like computer code.
Here is a random walk through the possibility space we live in.
The National Health Service in the UK is sequencing 100,000 citizens and wants to sequence the entire UK population. The NIH is doing a broad metadata study on DNA Environmental correlations on phenotype. There seems to be a compelling case for the WHO to fund a global genetic database. A complete genomic and associated health record of the human population, gives drug companies the ability to calculate the market value of treating each and every disease. Some orphan diseases may cross the threshold of profitability. New associations between genetic markers and health outcomes will be open to analysis.
With networked data on ancestry, a higher level study of phenotype and environment could identify similar correlations. Large surveys of ancestry networks and environmental impacts suggest a future where every grave in the world is mined for DNA data. With a complete genomic record of ancestry, humans will be able to instantly know the family relationship between themselves and every other human. The narcissism of small differences may lose value if people were able to see people from a neighboring tribe as being intimately related to themselves. People are more likely to trust relatives and trust allows for greater economic fluency. This is a compelling case for international organizations like the World Bank or United Nations to fund a global ancestry genomic database.
One reason that people are resistant to global genetic databases is the overuse and misuse of this data by security professionals. Law enforcement officials In the southern United States keep hundreds of thousands of DNA samples from convicted criminals. Crime labs in the USA spend billions on sequencing. They even collect of DNA from victims. Analytics driven smart policing using DNA augmented agent based models could offer a more scientific approach to the preemptive containment of criminals. (The USA already incarcerates a large part of its population based on trivial victimless crimes. One way of interpreting this policy is an effort to preemptively contain a high risk population based on a trivial but significant association.) Modern law enforcement operates under a social contract where is promises to only attack those guilty of specific crimes. If this contract is thrown away and replaced with a broader use of coercion it is a dramatic rebalance of power which has wide implications about political force, and legitimacy.
Your DNA is now part of your data exhaust (along with all the Google searches you ever made, your GPS record, every email you ever sent and etc). It will be sucked up by marketing firms, insurance companies, banks and security firms. The data will be used to make statistical predictions about your behavior and sold as widely as possible. Future employers, landlords, and loan officers will likely bypass privacy protection laws by requiring your permission to use this data as part of use conditions.
With network analysis, social footprints are becoming an important part of analytics. Your friends DNA and data exhaust will have an important impact on your possibility space in society. This multi node data exhaust model is now set in motions – the step beyond predictive analytics is agent based models. This technology uses your data exhaust to make an agent (polymorph, ghost, replicant) that represents your expected behavior pattern. Your agent is then run through a simulation millions of times to get a more accurate probability map of your decision space.
How can the cost benefit be balanced? When analytics removes uncertainty it frees up resources. How are these resources distributed? Are there other ways to offset risk besides the over use of force and incarceration? It would be extremely unfortunate to let negative externalities shape the debate when the up side is significant.
P.S. A quick look at physical cloning.
Project Einstein is sequencing 400 math geniuses. China is sequencing 1600 gifted children. This trend to capture and compare the genotypes of great minds is compelling. People buying eggs for invitro may want to increase the chances of having an above average baby. Taking this idea further the name “Project EinStein” suggests the quest to sequence all the great minds of history. Why wouldn’t every state power or infertile couple want to kickstart their own Einstein or Napoleon? Or a cocktail containing significant qualities of both? An attack on the ability to patent human DNA may impact the commercial yields of this area as study, but a DIY peer-to-peer effort in this area could be compelling. Some are already concerned about state efforts to engineer its populations genetics.
“Our data suggest that biological systems may never be in equilibrium at all, with groups expanding and contracting under persistent and rather, geologically speaking, rapid change.” Check the latest test of Red Queen theory described in physorg.
“Fluid Mechanics Explains Cosmology, Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and Life” uses new trends in turbulence (a reverse of the emphasis of large to small cascades) to offer a new theory of the universe and the origins of life. I love it when scientists dare to be wildly speculative and Journal of Cosmology never disappoints.
I strongly recommend Professor Timothy Morton’s iTunes University podcast lectures from UC Davis – if you like grand mal freestyle mindplay on the philosophical political aesthetics of ecology and romantic poetry.