How do you clone a dog like they did on the Channel 4 programme “The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend” shown this week? It might seem obvious to some, but for the great majority cloning sounds like something out of science fiction. Let’s break it down as simply as possible. DNA is the recipe that is used by almost all of life on Earth. Every single animal that has ever lived started as a single cell and developed into an adult by following, very precisely, the instructions in its DNA. Using delicate processes scientists are now able to remove the DNA from an embryo, leaving a healthy but information-less cell. The DNA is then taken from a living individual and inserted into the empty cell, replacing that which was removed and giving it instructions to create an adult. This embryo is then implanted in a female and the pregnancy and growth begins.
So an individual’s unique DNA specifies precisely how to ‘make’ that individual from the starting point of an embryo. By replacing the recipe from one embryo with that of a living individual, a clone is produced that is essentially an identical twin, just with a different birthday to the original. This does not mean that the clone is the exact same individual – just look at typical identical twins – they are made individual by the environment they experience through their lives.
Cloning cannot recreate an individual’s personality; it cannot make a copy of a person; it cannot bring someone back from the dead or let them live forever. However, it could be used to exclusively breed the most desirable and valuable animals for agriculture, albeit at greater risk of epidemics.
So I’ve recently realised some people are much less sociable in group situations than they surely were when phones weren’t quite so versatile. These people, I like to call ‘Phonies’, are constantly sidetracked by their phones; the temptations and draws of social media and nifty, ‘time-saving’, trending, gadget-like apps. Constantly engaging with dozens of little ‘helpful’ apps can save seconds and make a day run smoothly, but they come at a cost to friendly interaction. Often Phonies don’t listen to your story, thoughts or questions, they just vacantly stare at their screens instead. In extreme circumstances Phonies appear to distance themselves from the group at times by busily checking what people are tweeting about or what they’ve got up to and posted on facebook or instagram. I say it’s simply not worth it. We desperately need to be able to separate our time spent engaged with our phones and time spent fully engaged with our friends! Otherwise we’ll just continue this demise and eventually won’t be bothering to talk much at all. And it’s infuriating and boring to be around friends who are full or part-time Phonies.
I would almost go so-far as to say that I’m offended that a shiny LED screen can sway someone’s attention from talking to me. And unfortunately the rise of Phonies has the potential to spiral out of control, especially as phone use can be contagious. One person engages with their phone and others get bored/offended/jealous and soon immerse themselves in their own tech, leading to conversational inertia. And the young may be at greatest risk due to their high exposure to tablets and games at home (see this worrying article), resulting in the incomplete development of their basic abilities to socialise, befriend and network. Result: a world full of Phonies, like the two depicted below in a new piece by Banksy called “Mobile Lovers”.
Will we augment ourselves and become one with machines as futurist Ray Kurzweil (pictured below) predicted many years ago for 2029? It definitely looks like it. Think about it, you already increase your social interactions on a daily basis using a handheld supercomputer. We spend huge chunks of our day browsing, checking facts and ‘socialising’ on the internet. We even have virtual versions of ourselves that allow others to meet and learn about us while we sleep. It is not a question of if we are going to become one with technology – our lives are already heavily reliant and interwoven with computers and electronics and this is only going to become more efficient and subtle. The result? Someone who looks totally normal but has the ability to draw from a vast database of knowledge and communicate online without a sweat. But we don’t seem to be able to multitask at present so I would imagine this will lead to even less attention being paid to reality, despite the intentions of more seamless usage. Let’s just hope we maintain the ability to relax and interact physically with others, else life might lose its joy.
We can unite and act as one through the immense power of the internet and we have the tools to be completely transparent in our actions. Social media needs to be utilised for sharing useful information to people in a grand movement to change the small things in people’s lives that can make the big difference. Too many people are still influenced by traditional news outlets that are heavily influenced by politicians, and fail to give unbiased accounts of key issues.
Public opinion on genetically modified organisms is just one example. From where I’m sitting they are a crucial addition to our solutions for global food shortages with very little risk, huge nutritional benefits and greater crops yields. All crops are genetically modified from their ancestral wild types, the only difference is that we can now make specific desirable changes without having to perform years of trial and error selective breeding. GMO’s are no different to other crops or livestock, they are simply derived from a more efficient selection method. Yet the UK and EU still ban them, despite years of evidence proving their worth! Clearly there are far too many barriers in the way of making any sort of meaningful changes in political systems worldwide; if a consensus has been reached in the scientific community there should not be hurdles and endless bullshit standing in the way of change. Similarly for climate change, the damage we have done (and continue to do) requires us to act quickly else catastrophic extreme weather is only going to become a more regular occurrence. Yet as a global community we are infuriatingly sluggish and flakey when it comes to committing to ambitious, essential carbon emission targets.
Humans are one of the most social animals on this planet and have possibly the most complicated language system ever seen. This facilitated our huge cooperative childcare as well as food gathering, hunting and sharing. We must use this ability to communicate on enormous scales, now enhanced by the internet, to connect and act as one in order to live sustainably on planet Earth. If we don’t make some radical changes in the very near future then we will simply drive ourselves extinct, along with the majority of all life on Earth.