Machine of Death, in real life

A couple of weeks ago, I received my copy of Machine of Death.  I did not receive an actual machine, but a collection of short stories about a machine that accurately predicts how you will die.  Not when.  Not where.  Not even exactly how.  Just a vaguely fortune-cookie-style how, usually with an unforeseen ironic twist.  In fact, the predictions are very Twilight Zone, and seem intentionally misleading, yet still 100% accurate.  It’s very much like “I wish for a million dollars” and then you’re either crushed by gold bullion or you get mistaken for the bank robber who stole it and get locked away for life.

In the story, you put your finger in the machine, it takes a tiny blood sample, and spits out a slip of paper with something printed on it.  No matter which machine you go it, you always get the same answer.  “Buried alive,” for instance.  So maybe you avoid graveyards and construction sites.  Maybe you take up skydiving because, heck, you won’t die from it.  But maybe you take a bad skydive into a gravel pit.  Or maybe a building collapses on you (“buried” does not necessarily imply dirt, right?)  Or you get a slip of paper that simply says “boat.”  You avoid waterfronts all your life, opt out of beach camping and waterski trips to the lake only to have a truck towing a boat jacknife in front of you on the freeway on the way to work.  Ouch.

The whole concept was a joke from a Dinosaur Comic a few years ago (friggin’ cheeseburgers), which snowballed into the recent book project.  It’s great to see artists of the web (be they webcomics, authors, or web service builders) become successful.

I finally started reading the book (I have a backlog of all the stuff I want to read) yesterday and enjoy what I’ve read so far.

In a strange and unplanned twist of fate, I signed up for 23 And Me’s DNA testing a few days ago.  I had been eyeing it for at least a year and when that Gizmodo discount knocked 80% off of the price, I had to jump.

These were two isolated events — the book and the DNA test — and my brain didn’t initially click the two together, but I finally realize that DNA sequencing (actually, genotyping because actual sequencing is still prohibitively expensive for commercial ventures) is about as close to The Machine of Death that we can get in modern day.  Obviously, it can’t tell you how you’re going to die, but it will let you know if you have increased risk for a number of things like various cancers, a heart attack, and a whole slew of diseases and disorders.  If you have an elevated risk for a particular bone disease, maybe there’s a better diet, exercise, or supplements you can take.  Or maybe when you’re deciding which charity to give you, you contribute to the one that studies that particular disease.

Obviously, with the DNA results, you aren’t going to go to ludicrous extremes like never going to the beach, but you might make little changes in your life to increase your odds.  Actually, scratch that beach thing — if you’re susceptible to skin cancer, maybe you’ll skip out on the beach trip.  OH NO!  The machine is ALREADY HERE!

Posted in: Dear Diary

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Brian Enigma

Brian Enigma is a Portlander, manipulator of atoms & bits, minor-league blogger, and all-around great guy. He typically writes about the interesting “maker” projects he's working on, but sometimes veers off into puzzles, software, games, local news, and current events.

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