Game Theory: How Assassin's Creed Predicted the Future of Science

How Assassin's Creed Predicted the Future of Science

Assassin's Creed? Great games. Awesome storyline. Uncannily accurate about the future of techno-genetics. Little did Ubisoft know when they released the first Assassin's Creed in 2007 that the Animus project adventures of Desmond and Altair would successfully predict the future of scientific research in 2013. So, is it possible to pass memories down between generations as depicted in Assassin's Creed?

Watch Video

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this video uploaded on YouTube ages ago?

Lame, completely missed more interesting science behind actual genetic memories. It's a proven fact that a starvation event for someones grandparents changes their grandchildrens Epigenetic code to ether turn on or off longevity genes. We're getting to the point were abuse, and other stressful events can be passed down genetically. It's not even as "new" as this year old video that was put together in 2013. The study became public knowledge back in 2010.

Eirreann:
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this video uploaded on YouTube ages ago?

Yes all of the videos that have been posted, have been on youtube for awhile.

I realize it might undercut the 'punch' of the video, but I still would have appreciated a brief, "And given that the amount of DNA in a single gamete is all that you'd be able to use to pass on the genetic memories of all your ancestors and that your DNA also codes for things like arms, legs, eyes, brains, etc., your ancestral memories could take up no more than X MB before transcription errors would start turning your descendants into squid monsters."

As an actual professional geneticist, I find the public understanding of how genetics actually works to be tragically low. Sensationalist bullcrap like this only makes it worse.

There's a very small kernel of truth here. Epigenetic changes which alter how a gene is expressed without actually altering its sequence are sometimes heritable. To suggest that this is... anything... like your genes somehow recording the memories of your ancestors is a completely absurd over-extrapolation.

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist, I find the public understanding of how genetics actually works to be tragically low. Sensationalist bullcrap like this only makes it worse.

I'm not a professional geneticist and this shit still pisses me off.

Eirreann:
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this video uploaded on YouTube ages ago?

Yes, and that's why the end of the video begs you to click a non-existent (on the Escapist version, anyway), subscribe button.

Anyway, and I may be repeating some of what I said from the YouTube comments way back when:

Assassin's Creed didn't "predict" any of this. Not only is the genetic encoding they're talking about not what happens in AC even remotely, but a prediction isn't something that just happens to come true or something we have to rationalise after the fact (which is more the case here). That's like those guys who go back and insist the Bible/Nostradamus/the Egyptians/Die Hard predicted the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Ubisoft didn't even have the foresight to foresee the problems in ending the world in 2012 as part of an ongoing series, so I doubt they saw this coming or even bothered to do any real research. AC is based on a largely pseudoscientific idea that's been in and out of popularity for decades. possibly more, if you discount the specific "DNA" aspect. I seem to recall there being some early science fiction that was roughly based on Jung's collective unconscious.

Also, sloppy math. Which is weird, because GT was calculating knowns this time.

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist, the find the public understanding of how genetics actually works to be tragically low. Sensationalist bullcrap like this only makes it worse.

Maybe that's just what you want us to think. Are you or are you not an agent working for Abstergo to delude the public!? Answer me!

....Sorry. >.<

Zachary Amaranth:

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist, the find the public understanding of how genetics actually works to be tragically low. Sensationalist bullcrap like this only makes it worse.

Maybe that's just what you want us to think. Are you or are you not an agent working for Abstergo to delude the public!? Answer me!

....Sorry. >.<

I'm sorry to have concerned you. I'll just have to forward your misgivings to our... public relations... department. ;)

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist, I find the public understanding of how genetics actually works to be tragically low. Sensationalist bullcrap like this only makes it worse.

There's a very small kernel of truth here. Epigenetic changes which alter how a gene is expressed without actually altering its sequence are sometimes heritable. To suggest that this is... anything... like your genes somehow recording the memories of your ancestors is a completely absurd over-extrapolation.

If you're going to go out of your way to try to claim a level of professionalism you might actually try to pretend to have it by actually directing the conversation at the person your trying to call names. I'd hate to think that professional geneticists actually stoop down to playground name calling so I'll just leave it with I doubt you are any level of a professional. Now I have to assume you were trying to bad mouth me since I'm the one that brought up epigenetics, and the video made no mention of them.

Now I very narrowly said that it turns on and off a gene. So your claim that I said "To suggest that this is... anything... like your genes somehow recording the memories of your ancestors is a completely absurd over-extrapolation." if utterly false since I never claimed that, and I have to assume you left out talking at me because it would make your claim so obviously false that it made your head hurt.

Reading and comprehension is an important skill if you actually want to be a professional genetics. Also not flying off the handle just because you read the word Epigenetic, and not a single word after would probably help out in a career as a geneticist.

Eirreann:
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this video uploaded on YouTube ages ago?

Yep, when Escapist started re-posting these old videos, It reminded me of the Gasme Theorists channel, I've been catching up with them on Youtube now.

Well, old video or not, Ubisoft didn't come up with this concept; quite a few authors have written stories about machines that can read or do things with genetic memory. This concept isn't new, or theirs, beyond what they've done with it through the story of the game. Like most things, someone thought of it well before, and it'll likely be something used again unless Ubisoft decides to be assy about whether or not they own the idea.

medv4380:

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist, I find the public understanding of how genetics actually works to be tragically low. Sensationalist bullcrap like this only makes it worse.

There's a very small kernel of truth here. Epigenetic changes which alter how a gene is expressed without actually altering its sequence are sometimes heritable. To suggest that this is... anything... like your genes somehow recording the memories of your ancestors is a completely absurd over-extrapolation.

If you're going to go out of your way to try to claim a level of professionalism you might actually try to pretend to have it by actually directing the conversation at the person your trying to call names. I'd hate to think that professional geneticists actually stoop down to playground name calling so I'll just leave it with I doubt you are any level of a professional. Now I have to assume you were trying to bad mouth me since I'm the one that brought up epigenetics, and the video made no mention of them.

Now I very narrowly said that it turns on and off a gene. So your claim that I said "To suggest that this is... anything... like your genes somehow recording the memories of your ancestors is a completely absurd over-extrapolation." if utterly false since I never claimed that, and I have to assume you left out talking at me because it would make your claim so obviously false that it made your head hurt.

Reading and comprehension is an important skill if you actually want to be a professional genetics. Also not flying off the handle just because you read the word Epigenetic, and not a single word after would probably help out in a career as a geneticist.

Whoa, take an even strain there buddy. This is something I typed out in five minutes on my lunch break, I'm not trying to insult you. Truth be told, I didn't even get to watch the video the first time - I saw a link to the comments under one of Yahtzee's videos, clicked on it, saw the word "epigenetics" in the comments, and thought to myself "Oh God, not this crap again." Because the "ZOMG EPIGENETICS! ASSASSIN'S CREED IS REAL!!!1!" thing has been around the internet for a long time - like here:

http://kotaku.com/5901160/the-science-fact-animating-assassins-creeds-animus

and here:

http://valistrianchronicles.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-science-of-assassins-creed/

and here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbPwzII_g6o

and I just figured it was another perpetuation of that same thing. Now, having actually had time to watch the video, I can see that that isn't what it was about (although the video's still not quite right, but I'll get to that in a minute). Your description of epigenetics is more correct than most - although it doesn't deal exclusively with longevity genes (never mind that "longevity" genes themselves are kind of a contentious subject). There's still a lot which is unknown about when epigenetic changes occur and the scope of their impact on phenotypic variability, but I don't know of any studies dealing with abuse. It's definitely possible, I guess, as abuse definitely correlates with physiological stress, and that could lead to the sorts of changes in gene expression that are heritable. From both parents, too - even though oogenesis began before birth in the mother, and therefore she cannot contribute any new changes in chromatin condensation, DNA methylation, etc. the way the father can, her mRNA and protein levels can obviously impact the embryo as it developes in her body - most classic examples of maternal effect are caused by this. In fact, most everything probably has *some* epigenetic effect, but most of it is almost certainly difficult to quantify. One minor correction, though - epigenetics as an idea has been around for a long time, certainly before 2010. A lot of people used to use the word to mean slightly different things, though, and the definition that everyone uses now was formally established sometime back in 2008 (although it was in pretty wide circulation even before then).

As for the DNA data storage shown in the video, this is actually a pretty good description of it, and I withdraw my cranky science-man cane rattle at the media for always getting everything constantly wrong. It isn't quite perfect. There's a line about how post-pee shiver is obviously adaptive, because we wouldn't have evolved it if it wasn't, but that's kind of flawed logic. There are lots of things that have evolved that have no real adaptive purpose due (mostly) to a phenomenon called genetic drift. But that's a minor quibble. My other points were that the idea that DNA could theoretically be used for data storage isn't really that new. People have been theorizing about it almost as long as we've known DNA's structure. It just wasn't feasible with the current technology (as opposed to now, when it is merely impractical). I'm also a little bit skeptical about his cost calculations - the reason the Harvard team got their data as dense as they did was that they essentially coded the same book over and over - the same data was repeated a lot of times. This makes it amenable to a type of sequencing called "shotgun sequencing" for decoding. If you wanted every single byte of data on an AC disk in DNA form, you couldn't sequence it that way, because the data doesn't repeat itself, so you'd have no way of assembling it once you decoded it (let alone of accounting for errors in the sequencing!). To do it the way the video proposes, you'd need to use a single-molecule sequencer which are more expensive to run.

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist...

DNA FLASH DRIVE!

1. Can DNA strands get tangled?

2. What's the maximum length for loose DNA/RNA in a solution?

3. Would you pack the DNA into higher-order structures or just settle with a soup of short fragments?

4. What's the upper physical limit on DNA write/read speeds?

5. Is DNA/RNA a good candidate for fast-access chemical data storage?

6. As I understand it, reading and writing DNA goes in this slow roundabout way. What's stopping us from interfacing directly?

So let me get this straight, he spent his honeymoon thinking of topics for his youtube videos?

Blackpapa:

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist...

DNA FLASH DRIVE!

1. Can DNA strands get tangled?

2. What's the maximum length for loose DNA/RNA in a solution?

3. Would you pack the DNA into higher-order structures or just settle with a soup of short fragments?

4. What's the upper physical limit on DNA write/read speeds?

5. Is DNA/RNA a good candidate for fast-access chemical data storage?

6. As I understand it, reading and writing DNA goes in this slow roundabout way. What's stopping us from interfacing directly?

Before I'd begin, I'd like to point out that addressing actual the actual engineering problems behind DNA data storage is not really my specialty (I do more gene therapy-related stuff) - there may be recent advances in this field that I am not aware of, so don't jump down my throat if I don't know them.

1. Sure, DNA can get tangled. Often, the speed of molecular motion is such that the DNA will often spontaneously untangle itself before this becomes a problem, but lots of organisms have special enzymes like topoisomerases that untangle tangled DNA. In higher organisms this is less of a problem, as the higher-order structures DNA packs itself in leave less of it free to move (so there's usually not enough free length at any given time to get tangled), but they still have a variety of topoisomerases around for instances like replication when longer lengths of free DNA are exposed.

2. Well... this is actually kind of a tricky question. It depends a lot on what the solution you're dissolving it in is, and what degree of condensation you're willing to allow the DNA to have. In human cells, whole chromosomes are the same piece of linear DNA, and chromosome one is something like 250 million base pairs. Naked DNA (DNA with no protein or other modifications) *can* exist in solution in really, really large sizes - it's just that it's fragile this way, and tends to break apart when perturbed.

3. This really depends on what you're trying to do with the DNA. The most basic unit of DNA condensation, the nucleosome, involves wrapping DNA around a protein called a histone. These nucleosomes can then be condensed further. The problem is that in order for DNA to be read, it must be removed from the nucleosome.

4. Actually, read and write speed are more or less the same because in most current technologies, the same enzyme is used for both. DNA is synthesized by a DNA polymerase enzyme. The fastest commercial one I've seen claims to do something like 1,000 bases per enzyme molecule per second. DNA is usually sequenced, or "read", by performing the same synthesis reaction with nucleotides that are labeled in some way, giving off a specific wavelength of light when they are added to the strand. These signals are detected and interpreted as the order of the bases in the DNA. Now, for a known sequence (like anything you're trying to record would be), that would probably be synthesized chemically, rather than using an enzyme. As far as the theoretical upper limit... I'm not sure. I'd ask a physical chemist.

5. With current technology? No. Never say never, because there are certainly smarter people than me working in this field, but at the moment, due to the nature of how DNA is synthesized and sequenced, you can't take advantage of DNA's awesome ability to condense itself and still have something that could be read even relatively quickly. At the moment, though, it's a much better option for long-term archival storage than for something rapid access.

6. I'm afraid I'm not really sure I understand the question. What do you mean by "interfacing with it directly"? If you mean directly manipulating the DNA, the answer is simple - the scale. Molecules of DNA are incredibly tiny - measured on the scale of atoms. We can interface with them chemically, or by utilizing existing enzymes, proteins, or other molecules that exist at their scale, but there's no way to mechanically manipulate them at the moment.

Hope that was interesting to you! I'm never sure what level to write these things at, so I apologize if I was either talking above your head or mostly telling you stuff you already knew. :)

rgrekejin:
As an actual professional geneticist, I find the public understanding of how genetics actually works to be tragically low. Sensationalist bullcrap like this only makes it worse.

There's a very small kernel of truth here. Epigenetic changes which alter how a gene is expressed without actually altering its sequence are sometimes heritable. To suggest that this is... anything... like your genes somehow recording the memories of your ancestors is a completely absurd over-extrapolation.

Holy shit, thank you. It's so annoying how poor the general understanding of this subject actually is. I enjoyed the video, don't get me wrong. But there does tend to be a lot of sensationalist news about genetics on a near constant basis.

The question is, are memories worth encoding into DNA?

There are memories such as special occasions, but those are personal. The memories might be be of any value to the person inheriting them. There will be sentimental value, but it wouldn't be the same.

The only occasion where I think it could be useful would be encoding memories of relatives who have died/went missing before the genetic relative would remember them. I mean... I would love to sort of... "meet" my Grand Dad or Aunt.

The thing that bothers me most about this video (and this series in general) isn't the horrible science it spits out, or the incorrect assertions, like (in this case) the weird assertion that Ubisoft somehow "predicted" that DNA is an information storage medium--we've known that since Watson and Crick.

It's the completely incorrect use of the word "theory" in place of "uninformed, rambling hypothesis".

You don't need to get nasty, Its not like thats new data that he's just trying to sound smart with things he learned off wiki. and Desmond, Altair, and Ezio didn't record their own memories, they were placed there by the highly advanced race of people who wanted something to monitor what their slaves were doing.

The cost being irrelevant. The mere question is 'is it possible' the rest was just to kill time to make the video the proper length, and I'm sorry if it was garbage.

Technically Assassin's Creed didn't pioneer the "genetic memory" thing. That's waaay older than Ubisoft. It was the premise behind the Bene Gesserit's abilities in the Dune books, and I think Carl Jung posited it at one point too? Can't recall. It's nothing new, and it's still complete bunk. It's cool as hell for scifi purposes, but totally crap scientifically.

 

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