The Challenges Inherent In Structuring a Cryonics Provider

Change is the one constant you can count on; radical, ongoing change driving and in turn being driven by the relentless advancement of technology. So if you're planning on placing yourself into cryonic suspension on death, how best to ensure that the provision of that storage will continue for the unknown length of time it will take for revival technologies to be developed?

Cryonics, for those new to the party, is a form of low temperature storage of the body, vitrified rather than frozen to preserve the fine structure of your brain and all the information it contains - preserve your self, in other words, waiting for the likely technology of the 2040s or later that can repair and revive a cryopreserved individual. It is very plausible, very sensible and less supported than it should be. Just like serious research into rejuvenation technology, cryonics suffers from the mass acceptance of - and even impassioned advocacy for - aging and death we see in the world today.

But back to the question: how to best ensure the continuation of an organization and its resources such that cryopreservation of vitrified customers continues solidly for half a century or longer? For added value, you'd want an organization that contributes to and helps to build the research communities developing revival technologies. You can be sure that a lot of thought has gone into this matter over the decades that cryonics providers have already existed:

For persons entering cryonic suspension in the twentieth century, and for some decades beyond, the success of their venture will be determined primarily by two contingent future circumstances: the development of repair technologies; and the survival of the organizational vehicle which they selected to transport them into the future when those technologies will exist.

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A fundamental rationale for selecting the self perpetuating Board structure was its ability to provide continuity of purpose over a long period of time. Existing Board members select those new Board members who they believe are best able to preserve Alcor's core values and carry out its mission.

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Board members have a strong incentive to choose carefully because the success of Alcor and the survival of our members - including our Board members - is heavily dependent on the abilities and character of future Boards of Directors.

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One of the original rationales for Alcor's self perpetuating Board was to prevent a takeover of Alcor. Because the Patient Care Trust Fund has significant assets, and is growing, the incentive for such a takeover continues to be present today. This argument seems most effective against a member elected Board if all members - even recent members or members whose motives might be viewed as suspect by the majority of established cryonicists - are allowed to vote. Various limitations might be imposed which would significantly reduce this risk. It is clear, though, that this issue would need to be thoroughly explored before making any significant change in Alcor's structure. It is essential that the risk of a takeover - a catastrophic failure mode - be held to a minimum.

Change is like water; it tends to flow along the paths of incentive. Humans are incented by the prospect of obtaining resources, and looting is as much a part of modern society as it ever was in ancient times. The forms are more baroque these days, but the thievery as just as real. You have to do your best to ensure the continuation of resources - and the intent to protect those resources - while you are not going to be there to help out. That has always been a challenge:

Putting your body and brain into cryonic suspension is an educated gamble, we must recognize that much. I think it's a good gamble, since technology is advancing rapidly and comparatively few interests are aligned against you in the matter of revival and returning to a place in society. Trying to put your resources, your wealth, on ice strikes me as a much more risky endeavor - the long history of human attempts to take action or enforce a decision after death should amply demonstrate the futility of attempting to preserve post-mortem vision and wealth from the predations and honest choices of your fellow human beings.

The present Alcor managers recently posted an update that reflects some of their philosophy and intent in these matters. It's well worth reading:

When the Alcor management changed in September 2005 to the current team, we developed a new policy of not talking about what grand plans we have for the organization, instead choosing to talk about things that we have completed. We implemented this policy change because the management team (consisting of Steve Van Sickle, Jennifer Chapman, and myself) were disappointed members. We were all weary of the empty promises, the distinct lack of improvement in technical capability and the lack of responsible fiscal oversight. We very deliberately set out to rebuild Alcor into an organization of which we could be proud, and we were enthusiastic about bringing positive change. Though it is a lengthy process, in my opinion we are succeeding, and we’d like to present a little perspective on the changes of late and on the challenges yet ahead.

Our staff is highly motivated and productive. We have an internal plan of action that the staff has been implementing for the last eighteen months. This plan relates directly to the two things Alcor needs most in order to transition beyond the tiny startup company it has been for the past 35 years: better evidence and professionalism. It presents a plan for developing an infrastructure to meet both technical and administrative requirements that are necessary to a growing membership.

It is good to see management at Alcor, as the leading light of the cryonics industry, saying the right things. Transition from volunteerism to professionalism is vital - it is the good form of change for an organization set on growth. Equally important is the continual critique and improvement of core assumptions, marketing, technology and business models. Alcor has suffered in the past for its failure to generate growth as an organization, but it is encouraging to see the potential for the industry - in terms of investment for research and spin-off technologies, public acceptance, and growth into professional status - to be far greater now than in past years.

For all too many of us, cryonics providers will be the only shot at a much longer, healthier life in the future. It's an ugly reality that we have to face up to and do our best to overcome through work, resources and research.

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