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OMAC 1: gene therapy

In the early 1960s Kirby was interested in how radiation can create random mutations. By the 1970s he was into targeted gene therapy. In OMAC, a satellite changes a person's genes. Impossible, you say? Yet the technology is now beginning to appear.

CRISPR and retroviruses are ways to use virus behaviour (the ability to change genes on a large scale) as a way to re-engineer the human body. For example, recently a young Syrian boy with a rare disease had 80 percent of his skin replaced using this technology (remove some skin, fix the genes in every cell, grow sheets of the better skin, then re-attach it). CRISPR is changing medicine. Extreme biological engineering is the world that's coming, as foretold in OMAC.

How is a satellite involved in all this? That brings us to mother boxes: the ubiquitous parallel technology that it took a brain like Kirby to appreciate. His New Gods books introduced highly advanced smart phones. We have early versions of them already. They use satellites for GPS. Sending data via satellite is today's technology. Today the cloud monitors our shopping habits and phone conversations, and decides if we are likely customers, or likely terrorists. Buddy Blank has simply been profiled more closely.

How does the satellite change a human body? We already gather health data using phones or Fitbits. We already send genetic data to "23 and Me" and use electronic implants for pacemakers or automated drug delivery.  Personalised medicine is already here today. It it is only natural for phones to interface more and more closely with our bodies. The first step is bioelectronic medicine. Monitoring our hormones will come after that. It won't be long before a standard phone contains a biological unit, just as they now contain GPS units, cameras, vibration units and all the rest.

These breakthroughs will come side by side with an ever greater understanding of our genes. Remember how the Human Genome Project took 15 years and cost $3 billion to sequence one human? Today the same sequencing costs under $1000 and takes around a day. That is the speed of progress. And instead of needing a big laboratory, microfabrication ("biology on a chip") is becoming a reality.

The OMAC project is presented as highly advanced even in its own context: it's so advanced that even its enemies don't know how it works (see issue 2). But all it does is a more advanced version of what we have in 2017. Buddy was chosen from millions (billions?) without his knowledge, so presumably he had some unique pre-existent condition that made him suitable. No doubt he was supplied with a new phone at some point previous to the story and thought nothing of it. He was profiled to the genetic level, and customised retroviruses (or similar) were designed and delivered, all controlled from the cloud. Viola. OMAC is real.

Not every detail is made explicit in the book, It does not have to be: the story is about the social implications, not the underlying tech. Nobody in issue 1 mentions their mini-mother box, just as nobody in a modern story would say "look, I have sci fi video phone and supercomputer in my pocket!" But my point is that Kirby is realistic. Kirby foresaw the future, much of that future is already here, and the rest will follow in due time.