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Why You Should Be (Very) Skeptical About Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine

There’s no way around it. This global pandemic has been a year-long gut punch to everyone on this planet. Some nations have taken those punches better than others, but even those who’ve handled it well still contend with its effects. It’s frustrating and agonizing. Nobody denies that at this point.

We also accept that there’s no way to definitely end this pandemic without a vaccine. That’s why many people, including myself, follow any news about potential vaccines closely. It’s easy to get excited when we hear about the progress some organizations have made. It’s even tempting to think that we’re close.

Avoid that temptation because, if you take the bigger picture into account, we’re not that close. It’s very likely that we’ll be without a proven vaccine for the rest of the year. It’s for that same reason that you should take Russia’s announcement of a successful vaccine, which it dubbed Sputnik V, with immense skepticism.

I’m not just saying that as an American or as someone who has mixed opinions about Russia and its autocratic government. Believe me, I’d love it if this vaccine were as effective as Russian claimed. I’d gladly celebrate it and commend Vladimir Putin’s knack for “motivating” development. That’s how much I want this pandemic to end.

However, there are some very good reasons to be cautious about this claim. Forget, for a second, that it’s coming from Russia, a country with an extensive history of large-scale disinformation campaigns. Just consider this simple scenario.

Imagine if someone walked up to you and claimed they had an app on their phone that could predict lotto numbers. You’re both intrigued and impressed. You ask for proof that it works. That person refuses to give it. They also ask for information about the program. They only give you the barest of basics, which you can’t verify.

Would you be willing to accept that this program works?

Moreover, would you be willing to accept it if doing so meant risking your life and that of your entire community?

Chances are most reasonable people would be skeptical and for good reason. That’s exactly why you should be skeptical of Russia’s claim. Russia has not released any scientific data on its vaccine testing and has not conducted the kind of large-scale test that most vaccines require to determine their safety and effectiveness. Without that kind of test, it’s impossible to tell whether the vaccine is effective.

That’s why practically every major health organization on the planet isn’t celebrating just yet. They’re not completely discounting it, though. There is a genuine interest in reviewing the data. That’s critical since this isn’t some fancy space probe. This is something we’re injecting into living human beings. We need to make sure it’s safe. Otherwise, we could end up causing more suffering than we prevent.

Beyond just causing a spike in cases, due largely to a false sense of security, an ineffective vaccine could undermine the public’s faith in public health. Vaccines have already been subject to all sorts of negative scrutiny in recent years. If this vaccine proves less-than-effective, it could set public health back years and lots of people will die because of that.

That’s what’s at stake here. There’s a time to rush something and a time to take bold risks. This isn’t one of them. Public health and medical science is not something we can rush. This isn’t like going to the moon or breaking the sound barrier. Those efforts required risks, but that risk was taken on by a few willing and brave individuals.

When it comes to medicine, the risks go beyond the test subjects. We cannot and should not take big risks when millions of lives are potentially at stake. This virus has already killed way too many people. Buying into a vaccine before we know for sure it’s effective could ultimately kill even more.

I’ll say it again. I want this pandemic to end as much as anyone. I want this vaccine to work as well as the Russian government claims. However, I’m not prepared to roll up my sleeve until those claims are verified. I encourage others to exercise similar caution.

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Why You Should Be Pessimistic About Optimistic News On Vaccines

In general, I’m a pretty optimistic person. I try to focus on the positives, even when I’m surrounded by a lot of negatives. It’s part of my personality. Granted, I wasn’t always like that. As a teenager, I was a pretty miserable, jaded, self-loathing cynic. There’s a long story behind that, but it’s not important right now

The reason I make that disclaimer is because the past few months have killed my sense of optimism. Actually, that’s an understatement. The impact of this massive global pandemic has taken my optimism, shot it five times with a shotgun, and ran it over eight times with a fully loaded pickup truck. My optimism is dead. It will be for the foreseeable future. That’s what this pandemic has done.

At this point, I question the sanity of anyone who has clung to any sense of optimism. Thousands of people are dead. Infections are in the millions. Things are getting worse every day. That’s not an opinion. That’s just basic goddamn math.

Now, I’m not trying to turn everyone into a pessimist, nor am I trying to crush everyone’s hopes. The point I want to make here is that there are just some things that hope cannot help, no matter how many inspirational quotes you read. Yes, hope and optimism can go a long way in many fields. A global pandemic just isn’t one of them.

To that point, I want to highlight the recent “optimism” surrounding vaccine research. I admit I too have been following this closely, too. How can you not? Even a cynic would agree. The best way to end this pandemic and get our lives back is with a vaccine. That’s somewhat distressing, given all the negative press vaccines had leading up to this moment.

At the same time, it’s remarkable how much the world has united behind this effort. I can’t remember a time when so many countries and so many organizations were this unified in their effort to achieve something. I want to find hope in that, but there are still a few intractable problem. This time, it has to do with both math and physics.

Making a vaccine is hard. There’s just no way around it. Even if you know the exact molecular sequence, producing it on a mass scale and distributing it to a large number of people is also difficult. It’s not a matter of will. It’s a matter of resources and logistics, the likes of which can’t be solved overnight or even within a year.

For that reason, when you see a positive story about a vaccine for COVID-19, you should be very pessimistic. Just look at this recent story from the Associated Press regarding Moderna’s vaccine research.

AP: First COVID-19 vaccine tested in US poised for final testing

There’s no guarantee but the government hopes to have results around the end of the year — record-setting speed for developing a vaccine.

The vaccine requires two doses, a month apart.

There were no serious side effects. But more than half the study participants reported flu-like reactions to the shots that aren’t uncommon with other vaccines — fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site. For three participants given the highest dose, those reactions were more severe; that dose isn’t being pursued.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they’re temporary, lasting about a day and occur right after vaccination, researchers noted.

“Small price to pay for protection against COVID,” said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a vaccine expert who wasn’t involved with the study.

He called the early results “a good first step,” and is optimistic that final testing could deliver answers about whether it’s really safe and effective by the beginning of next year.

On the surface, it looks rosy. It hints that a vaccine is getting closer. It may even arrive at the end of the year. They’re even saying that research is moving at record speed. It all sounds so great.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Don’t expect this pandemic to be over by Christmas, either.

Notice that I bolded the phrase “a good first step.” Also, note how few details about the research are actually listed or linked to. It just notes how many people were involved and how many will be utilized in the next step. That’s both a sign and a red flag.

It’s a common problem whenever the media tries to report on science. Actual scientific research, namely the kind reported in journals, is not the kind of thing you can fit into a simple news blurb. You can’t fit it in an article, let alone a tweet. Most scientific research, especially of the medical variety, involves a lot of numbers, intimate details, and chemical constructs that most people aren’t equipped to understand.

It’s not that the news media has to dumb it down for us, the public. It just can only report on the broadest details. Those details often include the various complications and shortcomings of the research. Make no mistake. Those complications are there. If they weren’t, then the scientific research wouldn’t be necessary. It’s why becoming a doctor is so difficult and laborious.

I don’t doubt for a second that most of these doctors want to end this pandemic. Some are probably hopeful that they’re close. However, you can’t be a good doctor without sticking to rigorous science. Breakthroughs don’t happen all at once. Those light-bulb moments we see in movies and TV shows aren’t even close to what happens in real life.

In real life, medical breakthroughs still take years if not decades. The sheer complexity of disease and our methods for treating it preclude easy fixes to big problems. In terms of problems, pandemics are as big as they come. If ending it required only one breakthrough, it would’ve been found by now and thousands of lives wouldn’t have been lost.

That’s why you should never look at vaccine news in terms of a breakthrough. Even headlines that inspire hope in this field can only ever tell part of the story. Unfortunately, science is hard and so is creating effective medicine. You can’t rush it. You can’t encourage it. It’s at the mercy of hard limits that you can’t bullshit your way around. That’s what makes it hard. It’s also why it works.

Remember that the next time you see headlines about the prospect of vaccine research. Don’t assume it’s going to finish tomorrow. Don’t assume a miracle will speed it up. That’s not how science works and that’s not how this pandemic will end. For now, the best we can do is endure, brace ourselves, and retain our sanity until things eventually do change for the better.

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A Message (And A Challenge) To Anti-Vaxxers

There’s a time for discussing serious politics.

There’s a time for discussing the veracity of certain scientific principles.

There’s even a time to question the very assumptions we once held without reservation.

All that said, a global pandemic is not one of those times.

I bring this up because, like so many others who have been stuck at home for months on end, my ears perk up every time I hear news about a potential vaccine for COVID-19. There’s a good reason for that. Every legitimate doctor, who doesn’t have a TV show or infomercial, says the same thing. The best and quickest way to end any pandemic is with a vaccine.

That’s not news for most people. If you passed high school biology, you know what a vaccine is and why it works. However, in the years leading up to this pandemic, there was a concerted movement against vaccines, especially for young children. It was called the anti-vaxx movement and, like many social movements relating to science, it was driven by misguided goals and faulty data.

I won’t get into the history of the movement. John Oliver already did a very comprehensive breakdown on the issue back in 2017, long before the pandemic. Here’s the video in case you need a refresher.

Even if you don’t support all the points Mr. Oliver made, I do have a message for those still skeptical of vaccines. Whether you were anti-vaccine before the pandemic or have just come to distrust modern medicine in general, I have one critical question to ask.

What’s your alternative for ending this pandemic?

It’s a legitimate question. Nearly every doctor agrees. Vaccines work. A vaccine is what will end this pandemic. If all those doctors are wrong and your side is right, then this is the best possible time to prove it.

You, whether you identify as an anti-vaxxer or are just skeptical of western medicine, have a chance to both show up the entire medical establishment and save thousands of lives. People are dying. Economies are faltering. Societies are frozen in place. The medical establishment, no matter what you think of them, are working on a solution. Where’s yours?

Now, I’m not saying the medical establishment is staffed by angels. There are many shady dealings in the modern medical industry, especially among pharmaceutical companies. Corrupt her not, however greedy their motivations might be, they’re still doing the work. They’re researching, developing, and testing potential treatments for this deadly disease.

There’s still time for the movement to do the same. If there’s any legitimacy to the anti-vaxxer’s stance, this would be their chance to demonstrate it. If anyone in this crowd, be it some renegade doctor or Jenny McCarthy, can come up with a better treatment, then they won’t just be a hero for saving so many lives. They’ll have proven their point beyond any reasonable doubt.

The time to make that statement is now. At some point, they’re going to find a treatment. It probably won’t be this year, but with lives, money, and prestige at stake, someone is going to succeed. Then, as the pandemic subsides and cases decline, what will the anti-vaxxer crowd have to say?

They’ll watch with the rest of the world as a vaccine ended a pandemic. On top of that, they’ll have sat around and done absolutely nothing to have developed another treatment. They had a chance to both save lives and show up the medical establishment, but failed. What does that say about the movement and its credibility?

That’s just some food for thought.

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Religious Zealots, Vaccines, And (Unavoidable) Hypocrisy

To some extent, a global crisis is the ultimate bullshit filter. You can bullshit your way through a lot of things. Things like politics, economics, theology, and philosophy can all be twisted and obscured by a skilled bullshitter who has little concern for the truth, ethics, or decency. However, no amount of bullshit can circumvent the grim realities of a global pandemic.

A disease like the coronavirus/COVID-19 doesn’t respond to fancy rhetoric, dogmatic beliefs, or ideological divides. It responds only to the immutable laws of physics and biology. To this virus, you’re not a liberal, conservative, Christian, Muslim, atheist, or Satanist. You’re just another host.

It’s a grim, yet sobering perspective. It’s also revealing in other ways. As I’ve noted before, I believe we’ll eventually beat this disease. Not since World War II has there been a crisis that has unified humanity’s effort to a singular cause. It will take time and people will still die, but we’ll ultimately save more lives because of the advances we make. The fact that nobody dies of Small Pox anymore is proof of that.

As hopeful as I am for this outcome, which still seems so far away, it does bring up another issue that will likely emerge once this crisis ends. That issue has less to do with the science and more to do with the religious zealots who have spent decades trying to inject themselves into scientific circles.

I’ve mentioned religion before in pointing out some of the humorous headlines they’ve inspired in this crisis, but there’s nothing funny about this particular issue. As always, I want to disclose that most religious people aren’t zealots. They don’t take their religion, their holy text, or their eccentric leaders too seriously. They believe what they believe, but live their lives as decent, loving human beings.

This is not about them.

The people I’m referring to here are the people who yell the loudest whenever someone points out a scientific fact that contradicts their preferred holy book. These are the people who demand that their theology be treated with scientific credence in a classroom. They’re also the ones who demand special treatment by the government and greater influence in society as a whole.

I single these people out because in a crisis like this, they can’t survive with the rest of society without being hypocrites in the highest order. I say that as someone who freely admits he can’t predict the future to any degree. However, I’ve met enough religious zealots in my life to surmise predictable patterns.

With that in mind, here’s how I predict religious zealots will react when a vaccine or treatment is found for COVID-19.

They’ll thank their deity and not the doctors or scientists.

They’ll eagerly get in line to receive the treatment, whatever it might be.

They’ll later claim that their deity protected them over the course of the crisis

They’ll then claim the crisis was a punishment for insert-hot-button-social-issue-here.

On top of that, they’ll do all of this with a straight face and a clear conscious. They won’t think of themselves as hypocrites, but that’s what they’ll be by the very definition of the word.

They’ll have claimed that prayer heals and protects adherents, but conveniently overlook how it failed to protect anyone during this crisis.

They’ll have claimed that any science that contradicts their theology, namely evolution, has no merit and should not be supported on any level. Then, they’ll gladly enjoy the fruits of that same science once a vaccine is perfected. Chances are they’ll go right back to bemoaning the same science because it doesn’t line up with their holy books.

Even those who openly defied orders by health officials will face few consequences for their behavior. Even if it’s proven that people suffered and died because of their reckless behavior in the face of a pandemic that doesn’t respond to prayers or preaching, they aren’t likely to change their ways. Even if their hypocrisy is thrown in their face, it won’t change them or their zealous dogma.

That’s the most frustrating part. Most reasonable people, regardless of their faith, understand that there’s a time for prayer and a time for working with the science we know to solve a big problem. Many of those working on a vaccine as I write this are religious. Some might even be motivated by their religion to save as many lives as possible. These people are truly heroic in their own right.

Those who build their religious zealotry on false promises, false hope, and even outright fraud deserve no such praise. Their theology depends on a foundation of bullshit and when a crisis like this cuts through it, then the only thing left is hypocrisy.

I take some comfort in the knowledge that, thanks to the internet and social media, a record of their hypocrisy will remain. They might try to bullshit their way around the facts, but at some point, all the bullshit in the world can’t overcome such hypocrisy.

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Six Technologies The Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic Could Accelerate

Humanity is capable of amazing feats when given the right incentive and circumstances. The problem is that humanity is also rather stubborn when it comes to incentives and exceedingly evasive when it comes to changing circumstances. We’ll go the extra distance and beat the odds eventually. We just need to be dragged kicking and screaming for a while.

When it comes to the ultimate incentives and circumstances, few check more boxes than a global pandemic. I don’t think I need to belabor how bad the ongoing Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has been. Even without media distortions and political agendas, there’s no getting around the damage it has and continues to inflict.

People are dying.

People suffering.

Societies and economies are teetering on the brink of collapse.

This is not a tenable situation and one nobody wants to see again. As bad as it is, there might be one silver lining to this global tragedy. It could help accelerate the development of technology that was already in the works, but lacked the necessary motivation to develop faster.

What follows are a few technologies that I believe this horrible pandemic might help in the sense that it’ll add some urgency. Nobody wants to see a mess like this again. Whether you’re rich, poor, powerful, or powerless, we have every reason to find new ways of preventing these plagues before they happen and these technologies are instrumental in doing just that.


Artificial Intelligence (Not Necessarily The Advanced Kind)

It’s impossible to overstate the potential benefits of artificial intelligence. I’ve certainly made a concerted effort when writing about it in the past. However, in the context of battling plagues, we don’t necessarily need the kind of super-advanced, super-intelligent AI to provide some of those benefits. When it comes to combating plagues, we don’t need an AI to be as intelligent as a human. We just need it to help us combat deadly disease.

This can be done without the kind of AI that finds its way into Skynet or Hal 9000. An AI that can better-analyze genetic data, run simulations on possible treatments, and track the spread of a disease can do plenty to prevent or mitigate future plagues. If it can just help us identify and isolate new cases in a short span of time, then that alone could save millions.

At a certain point, AI could get powerful enough to calculate entire treatment programs once it has the genetic data of a pathogen or condition. After this global, well-publicized crisis, it’ll have plenty of data to work with.


Space-Based Broadband Internet

When it comes to dealing with pandemics, the incentives don’t stop at treating the disease. Given all the closures and cancellations caused by COVID-19, we now know how challenging it is to endure an extended quarantine, especially for kids with no school and sports fans with no sports.

Enduring this crisis has revealed just how critical it is to have a strong, robust internet connection. It may not treat the disease, but it makes the measures recommended by the authorities more bearable. The problem is our current infrastructure for the internet is badly in need of upgrades and its role in helping us function has been made abundantly clear during this crisis.

For work, play, and just avoiding crippling boredom, we need a better internet. That’s where space-based internet, like the ones being developed by companies like FaceBook and Google come in. The idea is as simple as it is awesome. Use satellites and other high-flying crafts to deliver data more efficiently and reliably.

There are a few space-based internet service providers now, but they’re incredibly limited. This crisis, which needs reliable internet for so many reasons, might help pick up the pace in refining this technology. At the very least, it will allow people to binge-watch Netflix from the summit of Mount Everest.


Nanoparticle Vaccines

On the medical side of things, this crisis should go a long way towards teaching people the importance of vaccines. While I don’t doubt the anti-vax crowd will find an excuse to protest, even those skeptical of modern medicine can’t deny the need for better preventative measures for these treatments. Unfortunately, vaccine technology has been stagnant for decades.

This pandemic will hopefully change that and not a minute too soon. The current process for producing a vaccine is long and cumbersome, taking upwards of two years. It’s a process that has a lot of room for improvement. That’s where technology like nanoparticles come in.

The key to any medical treatment is the effectiveness of the delivery system. Vaccines have always had to take a messy path, but nanoparticles could change that. Instead of relying on the biological equivalent of a blunt instrument, nanoparticles could become biological smart-bombs, targeting pathogens with the precision we need to keep them from ever becoming pandemics.

Anti-vaxxers who refuse these just have a death with.


Gene Editing/Synthetic Biology

Not unlike vaccines, gene editing and synthetic biology stand to get a major boost from this crisis. I’ve written about gene editing tool like CRISPR in the past. I’ve touted it as a tool that could potentially treat all infectious disease, especially when combined with synthetic biology. That might have been hyperbole, but I stand by my claims on it’s potential.

Gene editing can do more than make pet fish glow. In theory, it can tweak and rewrite the DNA of organism, including the viruses that infect us. The challenge is refining the procedure so that we know how to modify diseases or create entirely new organisms that combat them through synthetic biology.

It’s not a small challenge. I’m grossly oversimplifying the obstacles in refining this technology into something usable. However, those obstacles are not insurmountable. It just requires time, resources, and motivation. After being economically and socially ravaged by a global pandemic, these efforts will have a lot more urgency.


Immersive Virtual Reality

While the scientists and doctors take up the challenge of fighting future pandemics, the rest of us are tasked with enduring the boredom they incur. I’ve noted before how boredom could become the plague of the future. I hope those stuck at home for weeks on end are done doubting me.

The entertainment industry may never be as vital as the medical industry, but it’ll play an important role in helping people stay sane, calm, and kind. Binge-watching TV and playing video games is helpful, but there’s room for improvement. At the end of the day, you’re still just sitting on a couch, looking at a screen.

To keep things both interesting and active, the development of virtual reality should get a major boost. It has existed for years and grown considerably from the days of the Virtual Boy, but it has room for improvement. Thanks to improving computer technology and more advanced interfaces like Neuralink, the experience could become even more immersive.

Beyond simply treating boredom, it could allow a greater sense of active engagement, which is critical when everyone is practicing social distancing. Being isolated and cut off from human contact may help temper a plague, but it’s not healthy. A way to immerse yourself in a realistic environment could help make future quarantines more bearable while also opening a new market, which gaming companies are sure to exploit.


Sex Robots (Obviously)

Does this one really need an explanation? When you’re stuck inside, horny, and run out of things to binge-watch, things are going to happen. Even if your partner or significant other is with you, they might get sick and you might feel lonely. Given how pandemics tend to temper the market for sex workers, a sex robot might be the best and only option.

If at least one company or horny entrepreneur hasn’t realized that by now, I’ll be shocked. The market for sex robots has been growing in recent years. After enduring a pandemic and weeks of social isolation, that market has likely grown. People rarely forget big global events like this. They’ll remember how lonely they were and that memory will fuel the development of sex robots more than any libido.

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A (Hopeful) Perspective On The Coronavirus

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As a general rule, I always watch the news with a skeptical eye. That’s not just because we live in an era of fake news, misguided outrage, and conspiracy theories about shape-shifting lizard people. I’ve learned from time, experience, and observation that the news can only ever tell part of a story as it’s happening. The full story never comes out until much later. Sometimes, it’s years later.

That’s not easy when following stories like the coronavirus. Unlike other major news stories that make headlines for all the wrong reasons, this is a serious issue. This is something the public needs to know about. The coronavirus is not just a nasty cold. It’s killing people all over the world. That’s an indisputable fact and one that warrants serious concern.

At the same time, there’s a context worth noting. As bad as the coronavirus is, it’s not the second coming of the Black Death or the Spanish Flu. This is not the kind of disease that will turn the planet into a post-apocalyptic wasteland in the mold of a Stephen King novel. It’s still serious, but it’s not a global cataclysm. Even if it ends up killing millions, there are over 7.6 billion people on this planet.

Human beings adapt.

Human beings survive.

It’s one of the few things we’re good at.

There’s another perspective worth considering when following the news of the coronavirus. Unlike the devastating plagues of the past, humanity has developed a decent infrastructure for medicine, technology, and research. Granted, it took us centuries of trial, error, and mass death and there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but that system is there. It’s better than nothing. Just ask Medieval Europe.

That system is already doing its job in combating the virus. Already, researchers at the University of Texas in Austin have mapped out critical portions of the virus. That sort of thing couldn’t have been done this quickly or at all just 30 years ago. This data is critical for the development of treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine.

The fact that this happened so quickly after the outbreak is something the news hasn’t reported on. Even if treatments develop and the virus is contained, as we’ve seen with other recent outbreaks, it probably won’t be a huge story within the ever-changing news cycle.

We know this because in late 2019, the first vaccine for Ebola was approved for use by the FDA and it barely showed up in the headlines. Considering how much panic the Ebola outbreak caused several years ago, this is quite a triumph. It shows just how quickly our current system can respond to these diseases.

Again, there’s still room for improvement and accessibility to medicine is a major issue, but the coronavirus is not some new form of disease. It’s a virus. We know what viruses are. We have the technology to study, treat, and combat them, more so than we have at any point in human history. Considering how much better we’ve gotten since the heyday of the AIDS pandemic, I say that’s reason to be hopeful.

That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down. When the CDC issues a warning about the coronavirus, we should take it seriously. At the same time, we should take comfort in the knowledge that we live in an era where human ingenuity has limited the suffering caused by these devastating plagues.

As with Ebola, we will eventually develop a treatment for the coronavirus. It won’t be perfect, but it will limit the death and suffering it causes. It also won’t make the news because it’s just not scary or dire enough. At this point, finding effective treatments for diseases is so mundane it barely qualifies as news. That’s an objectively good thing.

I hope that helps provide a bit of context and hope to the news surrounding the coronavirus. It’s still worth taking seriously, but we shouldn’t let grim headlines distract us from the great things that humanity achieves when faced with a challenge.

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Neuralink Event: Updates, Insights, And (Big) Implications

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It’s been a while since I’ve talked about Neuralink. There’s a good reason for that. Even though Elon Musk announced the formation of the company back in 2017, there hasn’t been much news, aside from a few cryptic teases. That didn’t stop me from proclaiming it be one of the most important venture of all time and I still stand by that proclamation.

Finally, on July 16, 2019, we got some news from Neuralink that attracted major press coverage. Musk, in an event that was live-streamed, offered some tantalizing details on the state of the company’s research into advanced brain implants. He didn’t announce that they’d perfected it. However, he did make clear that this is not some crazy idea he just scribbled on a cocktail napkin.

The presentation was lengthy and I encourage everyone to check it out. I’m nowhere near as smart, articulate, or successful as Elon Musk. Very few individuals on this planet are. If for no other reason, watch this event to affirm that he’s serious about merging human brains and machines.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, here a few key points:

  • The first use of this technology will be to treat brain disorders
  • The company has over $150 million and almost 100 employees
  • It has made significant strides in crafting advanced electrodes that can be implanted in a human brain
  • The current prototype utilizes chips that can process brain signals
  • The prototypes have proven functional with rats and monkeys

These insights are intriguing, but they’re not going to change the world overnight. It’s not like we’ll be able to order our own brain implants from Amazon by the end of the year. This technology is still in its infancy. We’ve only recently developed computer hardware that can communicate with brain cells. We’re a long way off from functioning on the level of the Borg.

What Musk laid out wasn’t just a vision. He offered specifics, citing where we are with the technology and who will initially benefit. It makes sense for those with brain disorders to act as the first beneficiaries. Aside from the difficulty of convincing most people to have something put into their brains, these implants could be invaluable at helping quadriplegics improve their lives.

It’s not an impossible feat, having brains interact directly with machines. It has been successfully done with monkeys. It’s just a matter of testing, refinement, and improvement. Like cell phones and Lasik surgery, which I’ve had done, the technology will improve once it has a foundation to build on.

Now, we got a glimpse of that foundation and there’s plenty of reasons for excitement. While nobody can predict the future, especially not as well as someone like Elon Musk, there are some major implications for the near and distant future.

Just controlling a computer with your brain is not the endgame of this technology. Musk stated clearly in the event that the ultimate goal is to create an intimate, symbiotic relationship between humans and advanced artificial intelligence. He sees it as a necessary relationship if we’re to minimize the existential threat posed by AI.

Before we get to that goal, though, it’s almost a given that this technology will find other uses and markets. One market that wasn’t mentioned in the presentation, but could prove very lucrative, is gaming.

As much as video game technology has advanced since the early days of Nintendo, the controls haven’t evolved much. We still need a keyboard or a controller to interact with the system. As someone whose reflexes were rarely fast enough while playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, I can appreciate those limitations more than most.

Imagine an interface where moving a character or a cursor required only your thoughts. Suddenly, you’re no longer restricted to button sequences and analog sticks. The controls only limited by your brain’s ability to give the necessary commands. Whether you’re playing an old Mario game or Grand Theft Auto V, you guide everything along with your thoughts.

Considering the gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, the incentives for innovation are strong. If a brain interface offers novelty or advantages for gaming, then Neuralink is in a position to reap the benefits.

Those same benefits extend beyond the gaming industry. While it may take a while for an implant to process the complex controls of a video game, it might not take as long to create one with the ability to give wielders more direct control of their smartphone. Some may recoil at the thought of being that connected with their smartphone, but the benefits may be too good to pass up.

I can easily imagine an interface that not only helps people type messages faster, but provides better security than passwords, fingerprints, or facial recognition. Hackers might be able to crack a password, but brain signals would pose a far more daunting challenge.

This kind of interface also opens the door to a more intimate forms of communication. It’s one thing to just send texts and emails with our phones. What if we could send codes through brain implants that actually convey feelings and emotions? Instead of emojis, we could just send a coded message from one implant to another that conveys anything from happiness to shock to sarcasm.

That level of communication wouldn’t just be groundbreaking. It would change the way human beings interact. Again, it would be somewhat rudimentary at first, but with refinement, it could open entirely new channels for those who take advantage of this technology.

These are just some of the possibilities. The implications for the distant future are big, but the possibilities for the near future are just as tantalizing. Right now, the near-term goal revolves around helping brains interact with computers. At the moment, those computers are not advanced AIs. When that time comes, though, we’ll at least have a channel for that interaction.

These are exciting times, indeed. This is not just some eccentric billionaire’s crazy vision. This is really happening. There have been many technological advances that have changed our lives, but this technology may ultimately change much more than that.

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Five Crazy Ways People Will Utilize Emerging Technology In The Future

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Technology is amazing. Future technology promises to be even more amazing. I’ve covered some of the exciting trends for the near and distant future. Some are inherently sexier than others, but there’s no denying the appeal. Great leaps in technology promises to help humanity realize their full potential.

That’s not to say it won’t come at a price and I’m not just referring to the existential dangers, such as those involving artificial intelligence. As remarkable as the human species is when it comes to technology, it does have its share of eccentricities, for lack of a better word.

It’s not enough to just develop remarkable powerful tools for improving our collective well-being. We have to get creative in how we use them, sometimes to absurd lengths. I’m not just talking about the “creative” ways some people use ski-masks, either. Sometimes, new technology will inspire unexpected uses.

The Wright brothers didn’t invent planes with the expectation the it would create skydiving. The inventors of the internet probably didn’t expect it to be a massive hub for pornography and fake news. Those developing CRISPR, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and nanotechnology are probably going to see their creations used in ways they never intended.

Now, I’ve never claimed an ability to predict the future, but I’m still human and I have an internet connection. I’ve seen plenty of footage of my fellow humans doing crazy/disturbing things with technology. If the past is any guide, then I feel like I can infer a few potential manifestations of future absurdities.

Some are more likely than others. Some may end up being completely wrong. Whatever happens, though, is still going to seem weird or crazy to everyone alive today. If you’re the kind of person who complains about the weird things young people do with their phones today, just you wait. Her are five weird ways that I believe people will utilize technology in the future.


Number 5: Women May Bear And Give Birth To Dead Loved Ones

Few experiences are more devastating than losing a loved one. This year, I had to endure that when my grandmother died. Every day, someone in this world has to suffer the sorrow of losing a parent, a spouse, a sibling, or a child. There are many ways to cope with that today, but the future will create more options, some more extreme than others.

One of those extremes involve women, or even transgender women with functioning wombs, bearing and giving birth to lost loved ones. Say you’re a woman whose spouse died tragically in an accident. Rather than live in a world without them, you decide to take their DNA, inject it into an ovum, and carry it to term. Nine months later, your dead loved one is born again and you’re reunited.

That sort of technology is not that far off. In vitro fertilization is a well-developed science. Cloning techniques have improved significantly since the late 90s. There have even been movies starring Robert De Niro on this very scenario. While the ethics and laws surrounding cloning are still somewhat messy, this technology is already coming.

Once it’s refined, there will be no reason why it couldn’t be done. It would just take someone who’s sufficiently devastated/daring to try it. This would definitely create some weird situations in which people give birth to dead siblings and children give birth to their reborn parents. It seems absurd, if not obscene, to us now, but it may end up being a legitimate way for some people to cope.

At the very least, it would certainly make for some interesting sitcoms in the future.


Number 4: People Will Purposefully Damage/Destroy Body Parts For Fun

Not everyone gets the appeal of extreme sports. Some just can’t wrap their head around the idea of doing something so dangerous that it could cause permanent/fatal injury. There are those who say society is gradually shifting away from such dangerous forms of entertainment. Some even say contact sports like football and boxing will be a thing of the past.

I respectfully disagree with that. I believe it’s going to get more extreme and more brutal. The reason I believe this is because of life-saving biotechnology that will help us regrow limbs, organs, and everything in between.

For most people, taking care of their bodies is a big deal and a primary factor in why they don’t do dangerous things. That’s because, for the moment, we only have one body and if we don’t take care of it, we’ll end up dead, disabled, or disfigured. Thanks to regenerative medicine, though, that may not always be the case.

We’re already on the cusp of being able to regrow organs in a lab. At some point, we may even able to grow entire limbs. Lose your arm accidentally while trying to juggle chainsaws? That’s not a problem. Just grow a new arm and you’re as good as new. Did you kill your liver by doing shots of diesel fuel and bleach with your friends? That’s not a problem either. You can just grow a new liver.

If injury or disfigurement is the only thing keeping you from doing something crazy/stupid, then regenerative medicine will give you all the reasons you need to try it. Even if you end up hating it, you’ll still be able to try it without worrying too much about long-term damage.

The kinds of extreme activities this could inspire is hard to imagine. Football may stop caring about shredded knees or damaged brains if regenerative medicine can just fix everything. The extreme sports we see today may not even be seen as that extreme because the injuries are more an inconvenience than a concern.

Considering how boredom may end up being the greatest plague of the future, I think it’s likely that people will find all sorts of ways to do crazy, dangerous things for fun. The prospect of pain may still keep some people from trying, but the prospect of boredom will at least give them pause.


Number 3: People Will Splice/Tweak Their DNA With Animals For Impossible Traits

I’m not the first one to make this prediction. There was an entire episode of “Batman Beyond,” an underrated Batman cartoon that takes place in the future, dedicated to this idea. In the episode, teenagers use genetic technology to splice their DNA with that of animals. It doesn’t just give them exotic looks that are impossible by the laws of evolution. It gives them animal-like traits to go with it.

Want to have fur like a cat and a tail like a monkey? With the right genetics, you can do that.

Want to have scales like a snake and muscles like a gorilla? Splice the right genes into your genome and you can have that too, minus the poop throwing.

People are already tweaking their genome through biohacking. Granted, those hacks are limited because even tools like CRISPR have limits. However, as those tools improve, it’ll be possible to do more than just tweak the human genome. In theory, we could use the genomes of every other species on Earth to enhance our own.

At first, it’ll just be to help us survive. There are some animals who have better muscles, better immune systems, and better resistance to aging. However, once those refinements are made, we’ll be able to get more creative. Why stop at just making ourselves healthier and stronger? We could turn splicing our genes with other animals into full-blown fashion trends.

Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be the craziest fashion trend humans have ever come up with. Look up something called “Lotus Shoes” and you’ll see what I mean.


Number 2: People Will Use Biotechnology And Brain Implants To Create Insanely Powerful Drugs

As I write this, the United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in modern history. In 2016 alone, there were over 63,000 deaths caused by opioid overdoses. There’s no question that these drugs are as powerful as they are dangerous. However, through future advancements in biotechnology, these drugs will seem like breath mints by comparison.

That’s because all drugs, whether they’re pain killers or cheap vitamins, work the same way. Their chemical components interact with the complex biology of a person to induce a desired effect. Since they’re chemicals, though, those interactions are fairly crude. Trying to pursue those effects, be they simple pain relief or treating Ebola, is like trying to destroy a single house through carpet bombing.

Biotechnology, and the nanotechnology that will likely complement it, works more like a smart bomb. Rather than just flood the brain and body with chemicals, the drugs of the future will be more akin to programmable biomatter. They’ll have a measure of intelligence that will allow them to go to a particular part of the body and provide the necessary stimulation.

By being targeted and smart, that will allow for more effective treatments and alleviate pain. Why stop there, though? Why not use that same approach to produce the most potent, mind-altering effects our brains ever conjured? In theory, there’s no reason that the same smart blood that will treat disease could also stimulate every possible pleasure center in the brain.

As potent as today’s drugs are, they won’t be able to match what intelligent nanomachines in the bloodstream can produce. Beyond just eliminating pain without damaging side-effects, they could create a high that’s physically impossible to induce today. Add further brain enhancements to the mix through implants and all bets are off in terms of mind-altering highs.

Sure, that may resolve the opioid crisis, but it may end up triggering an entirely different set of problems. People can barely handle the drugs we have today. Will they be able to handle a high that’s mind-altering in a very literal sense? Only time will tell.


Number 1: People Will Eat Meat From Extinct Or Exotic Animals (Including Other Humans)

Producing enough food to support our growing population has long been the greatest challenge of civilization. Through the Green Revolution, and brilliant humanitarians like Norman Borlaug, we now have more food today than we’ve ever had in human history. There are still hungry people in this world, but producing the food is no longer quite the challenge it once was.

Thanks to biotechnology and synthetic meats, it’s about to get easier. Producing abundant food takes a lot of water, land, resources, and animals. The environmental impacts of that process are well-documented and prone to many fart jokes. Through new techniques like vertical farming and cultured meats, we may not even need fields or live animals to produce our food.

Back in 2013, the first ever lab-grown burger was created and eaten. It cost $330,000 to make and wasn’t that much better than a standard Big Mac. Since then, the cost has dropped considerably to less than $20. The only remaining step is to scale up production and refine the process.

That’s great for animal lovers and those concerned with environmental degradation. However, the ability to produce abundant meat without animals is going to open up an entirely new branch of food. If you can make unlimited quantities of beef with a few cow cells, why not try other animals to see what they taste like?

Why not take a few cells from a bald eagle, an endangered rhino, or even an extinct mammoth? If you have the cells and the DNA, then you can technically make meat from anything. That includes humans as well. While cannibalism is a major taboo in nearly every culture, why would it be if there was a way to eat human meat without ever harming a human?

Most people today probably wouldn’t try human meat, even if it was grown in a lab. Then again, most people alive 100 years ago probably would’ve been reluctant to try spray-cheese in a can as well. In a future where eating meat is no longer associated with the killing of animals, those taboos might not hold.

I can even imagine a whole culture emerging around it. Say you’re on a romantic date with a loved one. What better way to celebrate your love for each other than by eating burgers made from the lab-grown flesh of your lover? You love each other so much that you eat each other for a meal. It may seem weird, if not macabre, these days, but it may end up being an act of genuine intimacy in the future.


These are just some of the weird ways I we may use our technology in the future. If you have another idea for a crazy way people will use emerging technology, please let me know in the comments. Some of these trends may not occur within my lifetime or that of anyone reading this, but every generation ends up having a strange concept of “normal.” The future will just give us better tools to expand that strangeness.

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The Age Of Bionic Genitals Is (Almost) Upon Us

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The human body is a remarkable, beautiful, and frustrating product of nature. It takes so many forms, shapes, and colors. We do all sorts of things to protect it, abuse it, strengthen it, or enhance its value to us. Why else would the fitness and beauty industry be worth billions of dollars?

No matter what we do to our bodies though, be it beneficial or destructive, they’re still prone to many flaws. The extent of those flaws varies from person to person. I think it goes without saying that people like Jennifer Lawrence and Tom Brady have far fewer flaws to fix than most. However, we’re still very much at the mercy of our bodies’ deficiencies.

To say that can negatively impact your sex life is like saying shooting your kneecaps with a shotgun may leave a mark. Having serious flaws in certain parts of your body can contribute greatly to any number of sexual dysfunctions. Beyond simply hindering your personal life, it can be downright debilitating, especially in a world where everyone places a high value on having sex and enjoying it.

Medical science has done a lot to help people heal or improve their bodies so that they can have a functioning sex life. We have anti-biotics, contraceptives, and even vaginal rejuvenation surgery. However, why stop only at healing? Why should we be satisfied with the inherent limits nature has placed on sex? Humans have transcended natural limits before. Why not do the same with sex?

That’s where the cutting edge of biotechnology comes in. Specifically, that’s where the prospect of enhanced body parts enters the picture. Imagine, for a moment, treating organs the same way NASCAR drivers treat their cars. It’s not enough to have an engine that’ll get you to where you want to go. You want to have the parts that’ll get you there faster, better, and maybe even with a little style.

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I’ll give everyone a moment to contemplate that metaphor. Yes, I know that’s going to conjure some lurid thoughts in certain people, some of which are more extreme than others. You’re welcome.

I’ve talked about bionic genitals before. They are a thing, literally and figuratively. As I write this, there are multiple men on this planet equipped with a bionic penis that allows them to enjoy sex on a level that even the most well-endowed male porn star can’t imagine. That’s not to say it’s a refined technology just yet, as there are limits. However, the precedent is there and the prospects are both enticing and sexy.

I bring this topic up again because research in the field of bionic genitals is accelerating and, fittingly enough, becoming more gender equal. According to the Daily Mail, surgeons in London led by Professor Alexander Seifalian have successfully grown the first bionic vagina in a lab from pig intestines.

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For those who saw “Ex Machina,” don’t get too excited. The bionic vagina Professor Seifalian hasn’t been implanted in anyone yet. It’s more a prototype than it is an actual treatment. That doesn’t make it any less significant, though. The fact that someone has made a real, tangible thing from this research is a critical milestone. The fact that thing is a vagina should give us plenty of reasons to imagine the sexy possibilities.

Like the bionic penis, the initial purpose for the bionic vagina is purely to treat those suffering from a deficiency. Specifically, this advance would go a long way towards treating women suffering from Mayer–Rokitansky–Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome, a condition in which a vagina does not fully develop in a woman. Naturally, that makes intimacy and child-rearing a problem.

Bionic vaginas could also be a major benefit to women who have suffered serious physical damage, whether from an accident, a disease, or complications during childbirth. The organs Professor Alexander Seifalian is growing in a lab are made directly from cells donated by the woman. As a result, the tissues are perfectly compatible with the woman’s body.

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This will certainly go a long way towards healing women and helping them regain sexual function. Like the bionic penis, that will be the first major benefit of a bionic vagina. However, it’s the possibilities beyond healing that are even more enticing.

Talk to any woman who has given birth to a child. Talk to any sexually active woman who has gotten a little too kinky with their lover. The female vagina is a remarkable organ that is capable of amazing feats, but like the male organs, it does have limits and those limits aren’t always in line with a woman’s desire for a satisfying sex life.

Those limits may even contribute to the orgasm gap since few women actually achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration alone. While there may be an evolutionary reason for this, I imagine few women want their sex lives to be hindered by something like that. If we, as a society, are going to close that orgasm gap, then bionic vaginas could be a vital tool.

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Imagine, if your dirty thoughts will allow, a future where labs can do more than just grow a new vagina. Imagine that same lab growing a vagina that has more nerve endings to match that of the clitoris. While they’re at it, maybe that lab can add some extra muscle to the vagina for a tighter fit. For women who have given birth, that kind of benefit cannot be overstated.

Speaking of birth, why stop at making vaginas that enhance sex? Perhaps that same lab can make more tweaks to improve the birthing process. Imagine having a vagina that is more durable and robust than nature would allow, making birth no less difficult than a case of mild indigestion. Again, talk to any woman who has given birth to understand why that would be a big deal.

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Beyond simply helping women give birth and have better sex, there are also many benefits bionic vaginas could have for the transgender community. Other than helping them give birth, bionic vaginas could help improve gender reassignment surgery to a point where even trained gynecologists won’t be able to tell the difference between cis-women and transgender women.

There are probably many more benefits to bionic vaginas that I could list, but there’s only so much a man like me can contemplate. Even the aspiring erotica/romance writer in me cannot fully grasp the possibilities. They’re still worth imagining, though.

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With this news, the first and most difficult step towards developing bonic vaginas is complete, thanks to Professor Seifalian. It’s the next steps that’ll really have an impact on the sexual landscape. Once our sex lives are no longer hindered by the limits of our bodies, all bets are off in terms of what kind of sex we can have.

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Why You SHOULD Donate Your Genome To The Public

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Have you ever wanted to contribute to the future of humanity, but lack the engineering skills or the understanding of quantum mechanics? Well, there are many ways to do so that don’t involve getting a PHD, working for Elon Musk, or volunteering as a guinea pig for medical experiments.

As I speak, medical science is boldly pushing forward in exploring the basic building blocks of human biology. I’m not just referring to the sexy parts either. Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in in the early 2000s, we’ve entered unknown territory in terms of understanding what makes us healthy, what makes us sick, and how we go about treating it.

Beyond simply uncovering new treatments for genetic disease, of which there are many, learning about the fundamentals of human biology is critical to understanding who we are and where we’re going in the future. If the goal of every species is to adapt and survive, then learning about the human genome is akin to giving a light saber to a caveman.

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However, completing the Human Genome Project was just the first step. The primary goal of that project was to simply determine how many genes were in the human genome and how they’re organized within the 3 billion base pairs that make up our chromosomes. It’s not as much a tool as it is an instruction manual with a list of raw materials.

It was an arduous process. Between the time the Human Genome Project started in the early 90s to the time when it was completed over a decade later, the overall cost of sequencing one genome was a hefty $2.7 billion in 1991 dollars. That’s a lot for just one strand of DNA for one species. It’s hard to learn much from anything when it’s that expensive.

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Thankfully, much like early cell phones, science has refined the process and made it cheaper. In fact, it’s gotten a lot cheaper over the past decade. At the moment, it costs just a couple thousand dollars to get your genome sequenced. It’s only going to get cheaper. Some companies, in fact, hope to offer the service for less than $100. That means getting your genome sequenced may one day be cheaper than a set of premium headphones.

This is where your contribution comes in. Last last year, a man made his genome publicly available to the Personal Genome Project in the United Kingdom. That means pretty much anyone with an internet connection can access the specifics of this man’s genetics, right down to the base pair.

While that may seem like an overt surrender of privacy that the Ron Swansons of the world would despise, it’s actually a critical element in the process. It’s not enough to just understand the structure of the human genome. We also need to understand the many variations and diversity within it.

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To better understand why that’s so important, it’s important to remember just how clunky and inexact nature can be. Nature is, by necessity, a blunt instrument that is prone to many flaws. The range of genetic diversity within the human species is what helps us adapt, but it’s also prone to all sorts of flaws.

For most of human history, if not the history of life on Earth, we haven’t been able to do much about these flaws. Nature’s way of dealing with them is through the harsh, tedious, and slow process of natural selection. By learning more about the variations in the human genome, we can skip that process entirely. We can effectively maximize our genetic potential without multiple generations of trial, error, and suffering.

The tools for making use of that knowledge are already in development. I’ve mentioned CRISPR before as a possible method for treating most infectious diseases. That’s just one component in the larger field of genetic engineering, which promises to do more than just treat diseases. It could, in principle, maximize the potential of our genetics in every individual.

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By that, I don’t mean turning every human into a the kind of Übermensch that drives racists, mad scientists, and comic book villains. Like it or not, genetics can be a significant barrier for certain people in terms of realizing their physical, mental, and even sexual goals. If there’s a way to circumvent those barriers, why shouldn’t we seek it?

That’s not to say there aren’t risks. I remember Ian Malcom’s famous speech in “Jurassic Park” as much as anyone who was alive in the early 1990s. We’re not talking about creating monstrous creatures for our own amusement, though. We’re talking about the health, well-being, and suffering of countless individuals, including those alive today and those yet to be born.

In any effort to alleviate suffering and maximize human achievement, knowledge is power and information is the fuel. As it stands, we need more of the latter to improve the former. That’s why contributing your genome is one of the most meaningful things anyone not named Elon Musk can do to further this endeavor.

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That means if you have the ability to participate in the Personal Genome Project, you should seriously consider doing so. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the fundamentals of our own biology. The sheer breadth of human diversity at the genetic level is still not clear, but it’s already astounding in its own right.

By adding your genome to the mix, maybe you’ll reveal a certain trait or mechanism that will help us better understand disease. Maybe your DNA will help refine our understanding of how genetics influence our behavior, appearance, and ability to get along. Maybe doing so will reveal some unexpected heritage that you didn’t know you had.

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If you need a sexier reason for contributing your genome, then consider the possible insights our genes may offer to our sex lives. Perhaps there are genetic factors that effect our ability to form romantic bonds. Perhaps there are factors that effect the intensity, enjoyment, and satisfaction of sex. Even if you’re wary of genetic engineering, isn’t that worth exploring and refining?

There’s a lot to learn and a lot to gain. Some of us might not live long enough to experience those gains, but children alive today may still benefit. A future with less disease, less suffering, and even better sex lives is certainly a future worth working towards.

The opportunity to donate your genome is limited at the moment, but the growing demand for biotechnology and medicine is only accelerating. Even if you’re unable to contribute to the actual science, contributing your genome can be every bit as valuable. Our genome, like our lives, are precious and finite resources. Let’s make the most of them in the name of a better and sexier future.

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