Resurrecting Steve Jobs

This post confronts taboos about death and religion. If you’re offended by those topics, please avoid reading this post. I intend no disrespect to the family and friends of Steve Jobs.

Many Apple fans treat the company with an almost religious significance, so it needs the ultimate comeback. Some preliminary neuroscience research has shown that Apple products influence the brain in ways similar to religions. That small study doesn’t seem to be peer-reviewed and probably won’t make it into serious books about neurotheology studies, but it’s still an interesting area of research. After Jobs’ death, some Apple fans held vigils and left flowers at Apple stores. Over a million people sent messages of condolence to Apple and thousands of people attended a tribute to Steve Jobs at Apple’s corporate campus. That’s almost religious, or at least the sign of a very close-knit community. I’ve been using Macs since I was about five years old. Steve Jobs’ death was a sad moment.

On August 24th, I wrote about How to Save Steve Jobs. By pure coincidence I posted it several hours before Steve Jobs resigned from Apple. By that point, it was probably medically impossible to save his life. Shortly after Jobs resigned, I contacted a physician who had analyzed some interesting research on nutrition – specifically a ketogenic diet - and its applicability to preventing and treating cancer. It turned out that the doctor was an Apple fan himself and had tried to contact Apple’s PR staff months or years earlier, to no avail. After seeing a disturbing photo on TMZ, I wrote a post titled Preserving Steve Jobs. It examined the inadequate evidence for cryopreservation. I didn’t even try to get into contact with Apple, since Steve Jobs had already made peace with death.

Before going into further detail on the topic of bringing Steve Jobs back to life, I believe that it’s more important to save the lives of people in developing countries right now rather than spending valuable time and money resurrecting a billionaire. If the techniques in this post actually work, they will likely work just as well within a few decades or a few centuries. The child mortality rate is unacceptably high in developing countries and even in the USA. Some children will never even get the chance to have a normal lifespan, much less have the opportunity to become a billionaire who makes it to middle age.

The idea of bringing a person back to life is more speculative than scientific at this point. Some might say it’s just wishful thinking or pseudoscience. I would like more than anything to be wrong about scientific materialism and have the ability to believe in a peaceful afterlife. I still need more proof. In the interim, it’s more important to invest in ways to make the lives of living people more tolerable.

These items are ranked from the most scientifically plausible to the most speculative:

I. Creating a Digital Likeness

This is the easiest to accomplish. Several years ago, American Idol had Elvis sing alongside Celine Dion (video here). CGI and video effects could re-create Steve Jobs in video form.

II. Creating a Robot

There’s a massive amount of information about Steve Jobs based on his keynotes and emails and interactions with others. Few other human beings have had their every action examined in such great detail. This information might be able to used to create a Steve Jobs robot similar to the one that emulates Bina Rothblatt.

III. Creating an A.I.

Ray Kurzweil is an inventor whose predictions have been amazingly accurate so far. He wrote a document in 2010 called How My Predictions are Faring (PDF) which analyzes the predictions he made in his 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines. He plans to create an avatar of his father. As I mentioned before, a massive amount of information exists regarding many facets of Steve Jobs’ life. This information could be used to create an avatar of the Apple CEO.

IV. Cryopreservation, Resuscitation, and Repair

As long as the body hasn’t gone beyond repair, it might be possible to freeze it. The hope of cryopreservation enthusiasts is that future advances in nanotechnology may be able to repair brain tissue and restore cognition to people who experienced brain death. Time will tell.

V. Reverse-Engineering the Brain

While Ray Kurzweil is a computer scientist and electronics inventor, I find his thoughts on biology even more interesting than his computing predictions. Last year at the Singularity Summit, he gave a speech about reverse-engineering the brain and later responded to critics of his approach. Kurzweil is also working on an upcoming book called “The Mind and How to Build One”. However, reverse-engineering a human brain would lead to a clone rather than the original person. The clone would grow up in a different environment and would not be the exact same person.

VI. Mind Uploading

The Brain Preservation Foundation led by Dr. Kenneth Hayworth is an organization working to identify and separate consciousness from its physical roots. Another approach comes from Sirius Satellite Radio founder Martine Rothblatt, who funded the creation of the Bina robot mentioned previously in this post. She supports creating a replica of the human mind through the Terasem Movement Foundation. Halcyon Molecular executive Dr. Randal Koene also has an interest in mind uploading. The Carboncopies Project advances the idea of substrate-independent minds.

It’s important to note that it would be “easier” to upload the mind of a person who is currently alive. Before consciousness could be uploaded, the brain of a deceased human being would need to be repaired through nanotechnology.

VII. Exploring the Multiverse

Recent books such as “The Hidden Reality” by Dr. Brian Greene and “Visions of the Multiverse” by Dr. Steven Manly discuss theories of the multiverse in theoretical physics. Would it be possible to communicate with a doppleganger of Steve Jobs from another universe? Would it be possible to bring him to our universe? Is it even possible to detect other universes? I have no idea.

VIII. Time Travel

Dr. Ronald Mallett is a physics professor at the University of Connecticut. He gained wide recognition in the science news a few years ago for his book on time travel. The book mentioned his plans for creating a time machine and his interest in speaking to his father, who had passed away years earlier.

IX. Waiting for the End or the Beginning

The book “The Physics of Immortality” was written in 1994 by Dr. Frank Tipler, a mathematical physicist. He claims that the end of the universe would involve the resurrection of everyone who previously died. There’s also the possibility that measurements in the future can influence the present, as described in the article Back From the Future. Maybe time doesn’t exist in the way we think it does.

X. Bringing Consciousness Back

No one truly knows what happens to a person’s conscious awareness when he or she dies. It may be an emergent property of brain cells that simply disappears when tissue degrades. Or it may be a quantum field that somehow gets transported to another dimension or an afterlife. Dr. Johnjoe McFadden has an interesting theory of consciousness as an electromagnetic field (the CEMI Field Theory). On that page, he speculates that if information cannot actually be destroyed, consciousness might survive in some form. I also wrote a post about scientists who speculate the universe might be made of consciousness.

XI. Communicating with the Afterlife

Dr. Gary Schwartz is a professor at the University of Arizona who investigates mediumship and communication with spirits in the afterlife. Another stunning story of the afterlife involves research on the electronic voice phenomenon. George Meek claimed to communicate with a deceased physicist who gave him instructions on how to improve his radio equipment. That story along with other information on EVP research is in the book Is There an Afterlife? by David Fontana. A brief summary is in the EVP article at HowStuffWorks. I’m not ready to believe this research yet, since extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

I also have two extensive lists of afterlife researchers in these posts:

Near Death Experience Research

Science and Spirituality

XII. Prayer

If you believe in miracles, some religions claim a track record of successfully bringing people back to life.

Updated 2/19/2012