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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Advances in Science

I don't usually discuss national security here but I'm going to make an exception this week because I have the answer to all our problems.

I'll get to that momentarily - no fair reading ahead. You need some background first.

The November issue of The Atlantic contains an article with the provocative and somewhat confusing title of " Hacking the President's DNA ," which mentions the president but isn't really about the president.

No, the premise is that manipulating the basic building blocks of life has become so easy these days that you could do almost anything with them - prank your roommate so that he wakes up with three heads, build an alien and stage fake Mars landings, construct Godzilla and Mothra and stage pay-per-view battles.

Soon, we're all going to need personal antivirus programs.

OK, the authors didn't come up with those scenarios (though they should have) but they weren't shy about dreaming up examples in case there are terrorists out there lacking in imagination.

Among the possibilities: plague-creation, memory wipes, and pathogens that target specific individuals.

My favorite is fake sperm to produce a "semen stain on a dress" and/or fertilize an egg to make a fake love child.

Yes, political campaigns are going to be even more interesting in the future. I'm picturing both parties (and especially Donald Trump) finding "evidence" of mass lovemaking and alien heritage.

Science is a wonderful thing.

I'm not sure how seriously to take this - The Atlantic, after all, has been prone to satire. Raise your hand if you remember the cover story on the Dow Jones average hitting 36,000. (You can put your hand down now if people are looking at you funny.)

But if we take the article's warning to heart, consider this sentence: "A disease engineered to amplify the production of cortisol and dopamine could induce extreme paranoia, turning, say, a peace-seeking dove into a warmongering hawk."

Hence the solution to all our problems.

All we have to do is engineer a disease that creates peace-seeking doves - and removes the urge to dream up nasty ways to manipulate DNA.

Bomb some countries with that stuff and we can wipe out the defense budget.

Get to work, biological nerds.

The Finger: Speaking of interesting technological advances, a law firm in Canada has come up with a way of keeping track of its secretaries: fingerprinting them and then requiring them to swipe their fingers on a sensor every time they go anywhere.

The idea behind this, I guess, is to keep track of secretary productivity. The problem is pretty obvious - what if someone doesn't swipe? You could have secretaries who seem to work 24 hours a day.

OK, that would look suspicious, but a savvy secretary with some subtlety could benefit from this. An extra hour or two, seemingly verified by computer, could significantly add to the paycheck.

The law firm didn't think this through. This system isn't going to work without video monitoring and cages that slam shut without proper finger ID.

Lame as this sounds, it hasn't failed to enrage some of the secretaries and their supporters. There's a protest website that, naturally, notes that this program is something that Hitler might have used if only he ran a law firm (or something like that).

The impression you get is that secretaries might not be so annoyed if the program applied to everyone else there - i.e., the lawyers.

Obviously that's ridiculous. Lawyers are the ones who are supposed to keep track of every minute for billing purposes. You don't want accuracy there.

By the way, the protest website offers contact information for the firm's human resources department. Some of you might want to call to suggest the cages and video surveillance.

Reality Concept: I'm about to reveal a concept for a new reality series, so I'm making it clear right now that this idea belongs to me. Don't steal it.

Some background first.

A suit was filed last week against Courtroom Television Network (aka TruTV), which allegedly stole a concept about theft.

It seems the plaintiffs came with an idea called "Hands Off the Merchandise," about "loss prevention personnel" catching shoplifters.

That's right, video surveillance of video surveillance.

Hours and hours and hours of watching people shop and hoping someone stuffs something into a pocket.

Maybe that's a better idea than it sounds, because Courtroom Television allegedly used it for a new show called "Caught Red Handed."

For all I know, that might be riveting television.

But I like my idea better. Here it is: a reality series about stealing reality series ideas.

Don't you dare steal this idea, unless you want to be on my show.

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