You might recall that I've mentioned the Brain Preservation Prize as a worthy endeavor. Research prizes are in general a very effective means of spurring progress in fields that would not otherwise move all that much. Sufficiently accurate preservation of the brain ties in to a range of topics important to those of us interested in radical life extension - such as how to help the billions who will die prior to the emergence of effective and widespread medical technologies capable of reversing aging.
The nonprofit Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) hereby officially announces a cash prize for the first individual or team to rigorously demonstrate a surgical technique capable of inexpensively and completely preserving an entire human brain for long-term (more than 100 years) storage with such fidelity that the structure of every neuronal process and every synaptic connection remains intact and traceable using today's electron microscopic (EM) imaging techniques.
Cryonics is one existing way of preserving a human brain sufficiently well to enable a future resuscitation with more advanced technologies than are available today. Plastination is another possibility, but one that was never developed into a commercial service such as that offered by cryonics providers - arguably for no reason other than historical accident and the specialties of those who founded the cryonics movement. Interestingly there are currently a pair of teams competing in the Brain Preservation Prize, and they are employing quite different methods from cryonics and plastination:
Our first team, led by Shawn Mikula (working in the laboratory of Winfried Denk at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg), has developed a whole mouse brain chemical preservation and plastic embedding technique. ... As part of the Brain Preservation Technology Prize competition, Dr. Mikula has agreed to demonstrate the quality of ultrastructure preservation which his protocol can achieve. ... 21st Century Medicine's main research has been focused on the cryopreservation of transplantable organs (kidney, heart) and toward decreasing the toxicity of the process to such organs. However, as part of the Brain Preservation Technology Prize competition, they have agreed to demonstrate the quality of ultrastructure preservation that their low temperature vitrification technique can achieve when applied to whole rabbit brains.
The biggest single charity donation I've made so far is ~$100. But now I'm donating $5000 to an exceptionally worthy cause. And I suggest you donate too. Here's my cause: People who "die" today could live again in the future, perhaps forever, as brain emulations (= uploads, ems), if enough info were saved today about their brains.
Today, the main way folks try to save such brain info is to pay a cryonics org to freeze their brain in liquid nitrogen, and keep it so frozen for a long time. Alas, this approach fails if this org ever even briefly fails at this task, letting brains thaw, an event I expect is more likely than not over a century timescale.
An anonymous donor has actually funded a $100K Brain Preservation Prize, paid to the first team(s) to pass this test on a human brain, with a quarter of the prize going to those that first pass the test on a mouse brain. Cryonics and plastination teams have already submitted whole mouse brains to be tested. The only hitch is that the prize organization needs money (~25-50K$) to actually do the tests!
This is the exceptionally worthy cause to which I am donating $5K, and to which I encourage others to donate. (More info here; donate here.) We seem close to having a feasible plastination technique, where for a few 10K$ or less one could fill a brain with plastic, saving its key brain info for future revival in an easily stored form. We may only lack donations of a similar amount to actually test that it does save this key brain info. (And if the first approach fails, perhaps to test a few revisions.)
I don't understand why the cryonics community isn't already all over this. To express my opinions to them more forcefully, I offer to bet up to $5K that plastination is more likely to win this full prize than cryonics. That is, if plastination wins but cryonics fails, I win the bet, and if cryonics wins but plastination fails, I lose. If they both win or both fail, the bet is called off. Any takers?
Hanson would be far from the only person to have doubts as to the viability of cryonics, either from an organizational or technical perspective - though he really should use "vitrify" in place of "freeze", as that is what cryonics organizations do these days. Quite different.
My own opinions on the matter are that plastination is well worth exploring - but I would expect any plastination-based community initiative to take a few decades to come to some form of stability and sort out its presently unforseen technical issues. Just because you don't need liquid nitrogen doesn't mean you can handwave away costs and challenges in long term storage. Do insects or forms of microbe like to eat any of the known plastination compounds, for example? Does storage in need to be maintained in a regulated temperature range to preserve structure for the long term? Either of those immediately raises both costs and risks considerably. Cryonics as an industry has the big advantage of having already demonstrated decades of staying power.
That said, it is of course the case that more exploration and more competition is always better. The same is true for technical validation and bulletproofing of the technologies presently used in cryonics. Competition drives progress to a greater degree than aspiration: humans move when they must more than when they want to.
I should also note that, as is often the case in these matters, Hanson's commentary touches on whether a copy of your mind is you. I say no, which is one of the reasons to go into cryopreservation with a tattoo or other permanently attached note to say "Do not copy, restore the original." Copying of a preserved mind is likely to be somewhat easier, so will probably happen unless you ask for some other option.