Clearing up the Human G-Gnome Project


Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2002

The Human G-Gnome Project

Techwit By Jason Ohler

There are a number of projects with this pronunciation, so let's clear the air.

The Gee, Nome Project. This is ambitious plot by tourist industry officials to turn Nome, Alaska, into a resort area. Given global warming projections they really could have something here.

The G-Gnome project. Like the legendary G-Men, G-Gnomes are secretly employed by the government to spy on citizens. Should a gnome appear to be chatty and you to dinner, you're probably under surveillance. But a word of warning - when it comes time to the bill, gnomes always claim be a little short.

Then there's the Human Genome project, one of those forreal projects being carried out by science community that scares daylights out of most of us.

This project will give us a blueprint for what makes us human, and more importantly what makes you you and me me, so we can, among other things, build more people like us. (Be honest, does the world really need another you?) We will be able to screen each other's genetic profile for flaws" before they materialize as human beings who could spend a lifetime annoying us.

For example, scientists are finding genes supposedly related the darker side of the soul,things like excessive bargain shopping and the inability to color-coordinate your wardrobe. Apparently, if you have both of these genes then you are "biologically predisposed" to buy hideous clothing on sale that you don't need.

Bottom line: If two people of equal qualifications apply for the same job, but one has a bummer gene, then sorry, but the job goes to the genetically less risky candidate.

This will happen even though everyone knows most bad behavior is acquired by watching too much television (caused by the recently discovered gene couchicus potaticus). As usual, these murky situations will come down to constitutional rights vs. risk-management.

When you know more than you ever wanted to about someone, how do you continue to treat him fairly, let me alone be polite. It is the old maxim "familiarity breeds contempt" on steroids.

Certainly, we will start talking to genetic counselors about how to build our kids as matter-of-factly as we talk to architects about how to add an addition to our house.

When genetic science offers to spare a loved one, say, a lifetime of chronic gas, we will have no way to say no because our insurance companies won't let us. They'll force us to fix a problem because it's much cheaper than nursing it through a lifetime. But it gets real interesting when genetic therapy is more creative than essential in nature. Conversations like the following will become common:

Genetic Counselor: So, it looks like your daughter will be a little short.

You: She's not a gnome is she?!

GC: Not at all.

You: Because I don't want any gnome genes in her genome! So you need to fix that.

GC: Gotcha. I'm just letting you know that without a little gene therapy a basketball scholarship probably isn't in her future. And while we're at it, are you attached to your nose?

You: Well, yes, quite attached, somewhere around the middle of my face.

GC: What I'm asking is, do you like your nose? Because your daughter's is going to be just as big.

And just as you are about to protest such an insensitive remark, you have a moment of honest insight. All those dates you never got in high school? Face it, it was your nose. You never did like it and neither did anyone else. So, as a parent, what should you do? Will your kid hate you if you didn't shrink her nose when you had the chance? Or, hate you for not accepting her as she was?

Like all technological conundrums, this one can only be solved with another new technology: time travel. Then you'll be able to forgo your kid's gene therapy but change your mind later and return to the past to correct it, allowing you to make decisions that never really had any consequences to begin with. Now, that's progress.

Jason Ohler is author of many books and articles about living and learning in the Digital Age. He is a professor of educational technology at the University of Alaska Southeast. Jason Ohler 2002.


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