Proposed: a Brain Preservation Technology Prize

Research prizes are demonstrably effective when it comes to producing results, as measured in funds raised and new technologies developed. One of the more influential organizations in the aging research space, the Methuselah Foundation, started out focused on a research prize for engineered longevity, and there are many historical examples of prize-spurred innovation.

Via Accelerating Future, I see that an earnest effort is being made to propose a prize for brain preservation:

almost everyone has heard of cryonics but assumes the entire concept is fundamentally flawed. The concept is not flawed; it just requires diligent research and technology development to perfect the technique of brain preservation.


A Brain Preservation Technology Prize has the unique ability to get the scientific community to start asking these questions. It can accomplish this purely by putting forward a clear set of milestones for a preservation technique to achieve. Brain preservation is simply the only possible alternative to death on the near-term (<20 years) horizon, but today there is almost no serious research being performed on the topic. We simply must reinvigorate scientific debate on this important subject. A well publicized and adequately funded prize will do just that.

You should read through the rest of the brain preservation website. It is a reasoned look at the issues, both technological and cultural, that stand as hurdles to saving billions of lives through preservation of human brain structure. Our selves, our minds, are complex computational devices whose processes and data are defined by the fine structure of our brains. If that structure can be preserved well enough, and there are those who argue that present day vitrification technology is indeed good enough, then we could evade death by aging and wait for a future in which advanced technology can return us to active life.

This is not a ridiculous vision, and trends in technology give us every hope that restoring vitrified people to life will be practical well before the end of this century. It will require precision engineering and robotics at the nanoscale, as well as a complete grasp of human biochemistry - none of which are much disputed as realistic goals for the next few decades. Nonetheless, people find it hard to look beyond what is, especially in times of rapid change. Preserving the brain has little support and few resources are dedicated to furthering any form of widespread implementation, and so when people die, they die forever - save for the tiny handful whose brains have been preserved. One day, our descendants will look back on us as superstitious barbarians who committed negligent suicide en mass rather than embrace our newfound ability to save ourselves from degeneration and death. They will be right.


While I wholeheartedly endorse developing the technology, one might need to think long and hard about (1) whether one's descendants will actually want to do something with any large number of preserved persons (absent making arrangements beforehand for yourself), and, (2) if they do have a use for us... will it be a use we will approve of?

No way to know until you try it, but death might be the better option by a long shot.

Posted by: tfo at March 25th, 2010 5:45 PM
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