A bizarre new app claims to have developed a form of DNA-based gaydar. But not only do experts say that it appears to be based on junk science, but its creator appears to be connected to at least one bizarre failed startup.
A company called Insolent.AI and an entrepreneur by the name of Joel Bellenson are credited as creators of the “How gay are you?” app. It comes with a caveat that “this App does NOT predict same sex attraction” but notes that researchers recently found that hundreds of genetic markers are correlated with people who reported having had at least one same-sex encounter in their lives.
“The variants explain only a minority of this behavior,” the app’s description claims. “This app attempts to quantify this.”
If that sounds confusing, it’s because it is. What exactly is being quantified? It’s unclear, but there’s no evidence that an app could look at your genetic data and reach any conclusion about a person’s sexuality. Nevertheless, the app claims that it can return results such as “Your same sex attraction is above average.”
Experts called the app “garbage” and “terrible” in interviews with Futurism.
“You cannot tell ‘how gay’ someone is from looking at their DNA and I don’t think you will ever be able to do this,” said Deanna Church, the Senior Director of Applications, Mammalian at the biotech company Inscripta.
The app costs $5.50 and is available on GenePlaza, a new platform for apps that use and exchange genetic data, and observers have expressed concern that the data could be misused.
For instance, Bellenson’s LinkedIn profile indicates that he is based in Uganda. Alain Coletta, founder of GenePlaza, noted that Uganda may soon revamp its “Kill the Gays” bill mandating the death sentence for homosexuality, although its government has denied those reports. Same-sex activity is already punishable by up to seven years in prison in Uganda.
Some have suggested that the app’s misleading results could be used to falsely accuse a person of a crime. A petition has been started to remove the potentially life-threatening app from the marketplace.
So who is Joel Bellenson? His name is associated with a variety of biotech endeavors, some of which no longer exist and at least one of which failed so spectacularly it became an icon of the dot-com collapse. His name appears in connection with Upstream Biosciences, a company that was active for a period of two to three years about a decade ago, according to a flurry of press releases from around that time. The company’s domain is currently for sale.
But Bellenson’s most famous project is probably iSmell, a device developed around 1999 that could be used to transmit smells via the internet. A database of scents was used to encode aromas in one location and then users could purchase an emitter that mixed chemicals to reproduce a scent elsewhere on demand.
After raising $20 million, the company spectacularly failed, largely because nobody wanted the product.