Russell Brunelle (russellb) wrote,
Russell Brunelle

The ultimate monument

So, the 2008 paperback edition of The Best American Science Writing came out a few days ago, and I read it last night. I highly recommend reading this book every year: it's an easy way to stay up-to-date with trends in the sciences, and none of the writing requires a technical background to understand.

The articles which struck me the most were "What's Normal" by Jane Groopman (on the ever-loosening diagnostic criteria for childhood "bipolar disorder" and the increased use of heavy medication with harmful side-effects to make seemingly normal kids less stressful to manage) and "23andMe Will Decode Your DNA for $1,000" by Thomas Goetz.

The latter got me thinking - wouldn't a micro-etched copy of one's complete genetic code be pretty much the ultimate thing to have on one's headstone or monument?

Here's what comes to mind:

  • The key development necessary for this would be accurate and cost-effective whole-genome sequencing: as I understand it this now costs in the low six figures, but that cost is dropping rapidly.
  • The monument would be made of a substance which resists weathering, but hopefully it would be kept indoors anyway: I think for this purpose a columbarium would make much more sense.
  • I think it would be good for the code to be stored in multiple formats on or within the monument, none of them magnetic. Perhaps the visible one could employ a more advanced version of the micro-etching process used by the Rosetta Disk, and the initial text would also contain complete instructions on decoding the other formats (one of which would be stored inside the monument itself).
  • In addition to providing your full genetic code in a timeless format, the monument would also provide a micro-etched copy of your resume for anyone who wants to pull out a magnifying glass and read it: this way a far-future reader could read about your accomplishments and decide whether or not to pull out a more advanced magnifying device, scan your etched genetic code, and re-create you in everything other than memory. Think of it like a bowerbird building a beautifully-decorated bower to attract a mate. Anyway, all joking aside, etched alongside the resume would be a microscopic copy of your passport photograph, as much of your genealogical record as can be confirmed with absolute certainty, and possibly unique numeric identifiers of your time such as your social security number.

Anyway, it's just an idea.

Since people are willing to spend vast amounts of money for any possible chance at more life (and are likewise willing to pay vast amounts for the sketchy possibility that they could be brought back to life in the future if frozen now), I think that the much more modest cost and less emotionally fraught nature of a genomic monument or headstone (perhaps they could be called "lifestones") would easily find a market.

Plus (in contrast to cryopreservation) it's just an upgraded version of something you'd want anyway, and furthermore it doesn't look any less elegant: since the data is micro-etched you're still free to have whatever naked-eye-visible text on it that you like.
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