New app helps Icelanders avoid accidental incest

April 19, 2013 10:04:14 AM

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- You meet someone, there's chemistry, and then come the introductory questions: What's your name? Come here often? Are you my cousin? 

 

In Iceland, a country with a population of 320,000 where most everyone is distantly related, inadvertently kissing cousins is a real risk. 

 

A new smartphone app is on hand to help Icelanders avoid accidental incest. The app lets users "bump" phones, and emits a warning alarm if they are closely related.  

 

Some are hailing it as a welcome solution to a very Icelandic form of social embarrassment. 

 

"Everyone has heard the story of going to a family event and running into a girl you hooked up with some time ago," said Einar Magnusson, a graphic designer in Iceland's capital, Reykjavik. 

 

"It's not a good feeling when you realize that girl is a second cousin. People may think it's funny, but (the app) is a necessity." 

 

The Islendiga-App -- "App of Icelanders" -- is an idea that may only be possible in Iceland, where most of the population shares descent from a group of 9th-century Viking settlers, and where an online database holds genealogical details of almost the entire population. 

 

The app was created by three University of Iceland software engineering students for a contest calling for "new creative uses" of the Islendingabok, or Book of Icelanders, an online database of residents and their family trees stretching back 1,200 years. 

 

Arnar Freyr Adalsteinsson, one of the trio, said it allows any two Icelanders to see how closely related they are, simply by touching phones. 

 

"A small but much talked about feature is the loosely translated 'Incest Prevention Alarm' that users can enable through the options menu which notifies the user if the person he's bumping with is too closely related," Adalsteinsson said. 

 

It's the latest twist on a long-standing passion for genealogy in Iceland, a volcanically active island in the North Atlantic that was unpopulated before Norse settlers arrived in A.D. 874. Their descendants built a small, relatively homogenous and -- crucially -- well-organized country, home to the world's oldest parliament and devoted to thorough record-keeping. 

 

"The Icelandic sagas, written about 1,000 years ago, all begin with page after page of genealogy. It was the common man documenting his own history," said Kari Stefansson, chief executive of Icelandic biotech company deCODE Genetics, which ran the contest behind the app.