Today, Steve Jobs died.
This blog post will be only one among thousands of posts devoted to his drive and his genius. Thousands will celebrate a technical legacy that almost no technologist can hope to replicate. The original Macintosh, those early films from Pixar, the iphone… hell I am typing this on a Macbook Pro (dual booting Fedora… but still…).
I think this might as well be a good time to mention why it is that I do what I do. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer almost 10 years ago exactly.
I work on Health IT rather than more lucrative endeavors for one simple reason.
I will never cure cancer.
I am not even sure that “cancer” is curable. Cancer is too deeply related to the way our cells normally function in order to simply be “cured”. There is a good chance that all we will ever get is “really good treatments” for cancer. But it hardly matters for me. I will not be the guy who finds the cure or the “really good treatment”. I am a computer scientist, its just not what I do.
But my mother did not just die from cancer. She also died because of a medical error. A doctor had enough information to diagnose my mother correctly many months before we discovered that she had ovarian cancer. But doctor missed the signs. That is pretty common with ovarian cancer, it is less common than breast cancer, but more often fatal because it is harder to detect. Still, the signs where there. The doctor thought it was the flu.
Once cancer has gone too far, fighting is an uphill battle that many, including Steve Jobs, lose in the end. My mother died at 52. Jobs died at 56.
Is cancer an uphill battle or a downhill battle? Early detection is everything. And early detection is an information problem. It is a diagnosis problem.
It is a computer science problem.
Reading about Steve hits me pretty hard. He was one of us, a geek. Not just a geek, but a visionary among geeks. I do not square with the Jobs ideology… but I have to admit, he did some amazing things.
Steve Jobs said that he wanted to put a “ding in the universe”. And he did.
But the ding that I want to make in the universe is so much greater. The ding that I want to make is to make it much much rarer for us to lose people like this. Can you imagine what Steve Jobs could have accomplished if he had lived another 10 years? 20?
I will never be as famous as Steve Jobs and I will never be able to make as much of a difference as he did. If any progress at all is made in health IT it will be due to the cooperative work of tens of thousands of geeks with my skill set. But I am pretty hopeful that the area I am working in can really make a difference in the world. I hope that we might be able to make a few more critical diagnosis in that critical window where we might actually save some lives.
Tonight I will toast Steve Jobs, and to my mother. This is a good a time as any to reveal my addition to the latest painting by Regina Holliday. I did not tell her this, but I watched her paint this on the 10 year anniversary of my mothers death. I did not get to be with my family at the graveside that day, but Regina decided that others could add to her painting… so I added this.
That pretty much sums it up.