Bank to the future

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 November, 2009, 12:00am

Death is not what it used to be. When you officially log off for good, traces of your identity may still be discovered scattered across the internet. But if you want to leave more than just a shadowy presence and achieve a kind of immortality, you can sign up for a new service run by Swiss DNA Bank.

Established in Ticino, the southernmost canton of Switzerland, Swiss DNA Bank describes itself as 'the ultimate high security storage for your personal information, documents and memories.'

The futuristic firm taps into the country's financial finesse with entrepreneurial flair. The deal Swiss DNA Bank offers is twofold: ultra-secure DNA storage that meets Swiss banking regulations, plus the preservation of a parcel of virtual data. For a one-time fee of US$399, clients can store their self-swabbed DNA and up to one gigabyte of digital data, 'forever'.

When a client wants to access their encrypted webpage, they need just provide their username, password and a number that appears on their Swiss DNA Bank smart card's screen.

The DNA and web servers are held in the lamely named Swiss Fort Knox, set in the Alps in Gstaad, at a former military nuclear bunker. In financial meltdown-defying style, subscription fees are invested based on 'conservative Swiss formulas'. According to Swiss DNA Bank, the annual interest raised covers storage costs sustainably - doubtless a critical feature for customers spooked by stories about cryogenic meltdowns that leave a nasty smell.

'Invest in the future of your DNA,' the company says, 'and secure it along with your memories, your experiences and your life.'

But the ability of a prospective immortal to truly invest in an unpredictable future is questionable. If the global warming blockbuster The Age of Stupid is right, the earth will burn out, with Sydney bursting into flames in about 2055.

Another issue is that the globe is already undergoing a population explosion. If the DNA is deployed Jurassic Park-style to resurrect people, that will heighten the strain on resources.

Anyway, ancient wisdom warns against attempts at prolonging life indefinitely. Look no further than the Epic of Gilgamesh - the story of a Babylonian king with an itch for more than mere longevity.

The hero embarks on a quest across dicey seas for a thorny flower of eternal life that grows underwater. With stones tied to his feet, Gilgamesh scours the depths in search of the plant that he finds and duly plucks.

Then, on the way home, Gilgamesh stops to bathe in a cool pool, only for a snake to scent, snatch and devour his botanical trophy. Gilgamesh weeps. The god of breath, Enlil, spells out the truth: 'Everlasting life was not your destiny.'

Despite his royal blood, Gilgamesh dies like everyone else. So, striving for immortality may be a dud idea or cuckoo clock-crazy. Even assuming the storage that Swiss DNA Bank dishes up is sustainable, the dual-form data might well languish forgotten like half the files on the average hard drive.

That said, Swiss DNA Bank's marketing could prove seductive. The memories that it will store in digital form represent 'your most valuable asset', the next-generation Swiss bank says.

It adds that DNA is one of nature's most stable molecules - 'the recipe of your body'. Narcissists take note.