Are We Bringing The Dead Back To Life? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio WRITTEN BY: Kurt Norris
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Science has long dreamed of achieving life after death, but now even those who have long passed away might be about to return! In this video, Unveiled takes a closer look at the various suggested methods that might enable us to bring the dead back to life, in the future!

Are We Bringing the Dead Back to Life?

Ancient civilizations called it necromancy; for post-renaissance alchemists it was reanimation; today, we tend to call it science fiction. The desire to restore life to the deceased has inspired human imagination ever since we evolved our innate fear of death, bringing characters such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and many a man-eating Zombie into being. But really, today, there are now several real-life experiments underway attempting to reverse the lasting effects of death. To turn this incredible possibility from fiction into reality.

This is Unveiled, and today we're answering the extraordinary question; are we bringing the dead back to life?

In January 2021, news broke of a Microsoft patent for software that the company claims will reincarnate anyone’s persona in the form of a chatbot. According to reports, one application of the program could be to offer support to those in the grieving process, as it would reconstruct the vocals of someone who’s recently passed away for surviving relatives to speak to. While Microsoft's tech has yet to be fully developed and released to the world, however, there are similar projects that are already in use. For example, in the 2021 documentary, "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain", an AI deepfake of the late TV star’s voice was controversially used during some parts of the narration - to create an effect whereby Bourdain spoke as though from beyond the grave.

The potential ethical issues with any kind of human revival are already being debated, then… although emulating someone's vocals only could still be considered a far cry from bringing them back to life complete. Again, though, computers have before been used to render not just the voice but the likeness of the deceased, as well. In 2012, a hologram of Tupac Shakur took to the stage and “performed” at the Coachella music festival, despite the rapper having died back in 1996. In 2020, a hologram tour for singer Whitney Houston saw the late performer wow crowds again in the UK and the US. And, perhaps most famously, there was the digital representation of actor Carrie Fisher, who reprised her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars films even after she died in 2016. So far, it might be reasonably argued that these technologies have still been limited, though. That they’ve served to console or entertain, and to in a small way continue the legacies of certain individuals… but still, they don’t truly constitute bringing the dead back to life. They offer reconstruction, yes, but still not full resurrection.

These technologies, as they are, certainly stoke their own controversy regarding whether or not the living should even be able to emulate any likeness of the dead. But, beyond that, in the minds of some, the question also remains whether these methods could ever be combined to truly reinstall life? What if, for example, we were able to develop an AI capable of mapping the intricacies of the human brain? If we could then restore human conscience and transfer that to a digital reconstruction of a person, such as in the form of a chatbot and/or hologram, would that then be the same as really bringing the dead back to life? Would that being still be dead, or would the dead know that they were alive again? At present, we’re still far from this point, but the apparent fast-tracking of the technologies mentioned so far does mean that these kinds of debates are happening in the modern world.

But, of course, AI isn’t the only option here. Another method scientists could potentially use to restore life to the dead comes via cloning. The first major study of cloning is usually attributed to the German scientist Hans Driesch, around the year 1885, but since then, scientists have become increasingly engaged with the concept… famously achieving the first successful clone of a mammal from an adult cell, in 1996, with the birth of Dolly the Sheep. And science didn’t stop there. More recently, there was a successful attempt to clone an endangered species, the U.S. Black-Footed Ferret. The cloned ferret was born on December 10th, 2020, and named Elizabeth Ann. She had been cloned from a ferret that had previously died more than thirty years earlier, in the mid-1980s. Theoretically, then, the science used to bring Dolly and Elizabeth Ann into modernity should be transferable to human beings. Which means that genetic clones of dead people should be possible, too.

However, cloning for human use is controversial for many reasons, one of which is that the intricacies that construct a person's being go beyond just our genetic information. A clone would lack the memories and life experiences that had morphed the persona of the original, and as such, would differ in their response to their new environment. Therefore, a clone perhaps wouldn't be so much the reincarnation of a person, but rather more like a twin… only born into a different time, with brand new influences and ideas. If cloning were to become commonplace, then, it would still dramatically change the world, and in what many view as a frightening way… but it couldn’t bring about a true return of specific people from the past.

All of which isn’t to say that cloning has no applications in general. The potential it brings to restore extinct species (rather than individual specimens) could well change the face of science and the natural world in the future. However, even then, questions remain over whether we need to be selective on which species we do and don’t clone. How do we first prove that an intended species can survive in the modern day? And does anything give us the right to pick and choose what gets cloned, anyway? Again, there are so many problems that science and ethics has yet to figure out.

Finally, the third approach featured today focuses on an altogether different version of bringing life back to the dead. A highly controversial plan, which has been most predominantly linked to the US biotech company Bioquark, and is sometimes referred to as the ReAnima Project, reportedly aims to restore neural activity within patients that have been declared brain dead. Combining practices of stem cell science and nerve stimulation, the project's overall goal is allegedly to restore brain life to people otherwise kept alive only via life support. The project has been met with strong criticism from most corners, however.

According to the neurologist Ariane Lewis and the bioethicist Arthur Caplan, writing in 2016 in direct response to the news, for example, the project’s proposed methods have no foundational evidence to suggest any effect on brain-dead individuals. Instead, it’s said the experiment will only prove to provide false hope to the patients' families. Nevertheless, there have also been some academics who have tentatively suggested that the proposals could still be possible. Ultimately, the deep ethical considerations involved here mean that the project is one of the most contested and debated in recent years. Clinical trials of it in India were reportedly shut down, also back in 2016… although there are various claims that the study is still ongoing. Significantly, though, there have so far been zero findings officially published in a peer-reviewed journal. Ultimately, it’s become one of the trickiest stories in all of modern medicine, so divided has the wider response been to such a controversial initiative.

In general, with all the proposed methods covered in this video, we can see that while it may be theoretically possible to bring the dead back to life, or at the very least to achieve a likeness of the dead, the question remains… Should we? In a field of science so uncharted as this one, so many issues arise if (and when) any of the various methods prove successful. For example, would a clone or AI reconstruction of human consciousness automatically have the same human rights as the original individual had, despite their unorthodox origins? What’s more, who should have the right to be brought back to life in the first place?

It’s estimated that Earth may only ever be able to support a maximum human population of ten billion people. Currently, we have close to around eight billion people on the planet… and there are more than 100 billion who have already died. So, who gets to come back, and who doesn’t? If it ever were an option, might it only ever be available to only the wealthiest among us? And what would that do to society as a whole? There’s so much to consider that perhaps it’s easy to see why many believe that the dead are still better off if they’re simply left to rest in peace.