April Fool Comics have joked for ages that humans will eventually adapt to technology: growing nimbler thumbs for text messaging, or larger ears to compensate for poor signal reception. But in a remarkable breakthrough, scientists believe they have isolated the gene responsible for one specific kind of computer activity - and the race is on to commercialize it.
It's an adaptive, emergent property - and is sure to ignite the Nature versus Nature debate once again. Biologists believe they have found the genetic adaptation responsible for 'weblogging'. The discovery may take the form of what Stephen Jay Gould identified as a 'spandrel' a previous adaptation for which evolution had found no previous use.
Such claims have been made before, and have a dubious history. Late Victorian England was convulsed by the sensation of the "Hemel Hempstead Three". Three men - two of them brothers - had all developed extremely long legs - and all were Penny Farthing enthusiasts. The story was later proved to be a hoax.
"It's all about me-me"
Professor Teilhard, who holds the Poindexter Chair of Physics at the University of Santa Fe's Department of Extropian Studies, says that weblogging performs a harmless social function.
"Webloggers are born not made," he said. "And shouldn't be persecuted." The activity could be a positive, group-bonding social function such as grooming, or simply a harmless way of passing the time, such as masturbation.
Microsoft has employed over 400 webloggers in the hope of producing the elusive breakthrough, but now the race is on to find a commercial use for the discovery. Or any sort of use. Teilhard's breakthrough wasn't achieved overnight, and by interpreting some phenomena too literally, his team was led down several blind alleys.
"We noticed the repeated occurance of the phrase 'arse feed' from one part of the sample," said the Professor. "Almost every member of the sample mentioned it once, but some members of the sample seemed to talk about nothing else."
"We began to look for patterns - who was 'arse feeding' who. Was the 'arse feeding' bi-directional? There seemed to be no standard way of 'arse feeding' in the group - in fact we counted at least nine."
"It was only after some months that we concluded that what they were talking about was 'RSS Feed'".
For Teilhard, the breakthrough provides a vindication for his often-criticized methods after almost two decades of fruitless research. One fifteen-year experiment involved coating ants with invisible markers in the hope that the patterns could produce a text of basic English: such as an edition of Esther Dyson's technology newsletter.
However, the breakthrough raises serious ethical concerns. Is it right for parents to choose whether or not their child will be a weblogger? Can eradication of the gene provide a biological cure for solipism? But of more immediate concern, big business and the weblog industry are already eyeing the commercial opportunities.
Infrastructure owners see the development as a way of using the excess capacity that was built during the dotcom era. Since the Internet bubble burst, millions of terabytes of data pipes, and thousands of formerly-employed HTML coders have lain unused. Investors hope that in around twelve years, when the first generation of genetically-enhanced webloggers is tall enough to reach a keyboard, the industry's demand worries may be over for good.
Software developers in San Francisco have already trademarked what they describe as "Genetically Movable Type". The authors claim that while the free version, Movable Type, will continue, GMT will be packaged with specially formulated smart drugs to improve the weblogger's output. But the inventors are anxious to prevent the development of a 'black market' in GMT smart drugs.
But they're likely to encounter a hostile European Union.
"We're not convinced about the safety of genetically-enhanced Smart Blogging," an EU spokesman has said. The European Parliament has already voted to introduce a censure motion limiting the spread of GMT.
Such concerns don't seem to have dampened the jubilation of webloggers.
"Teilhard's breakthrough confirms that we are at the forefront of machine-human evolution," said one. Pressed for details, he replied, "I don't know what it means really. It's just a meme I felt compelled to transmit." ®