A Discussion with the KrioRus Founders

KrioRus is a Russian cryonics provider, and only the third such organization in the world after Alcor and the Cryonics Institute in the US. A number of other groups have for some years been inching towards launch, in Canada, Australia, and Switzerland, and there are numerous for-profit and non-profit companies involved in providing services to the cryonics industry, but the folk at KrioRus are to be commended for managing to make the leap. As is the case in the US, the Russian cryonics community has a large overlap with transhumanist and longevity science organizations, such as the Science for Life Extension Foundation. Cryonics is in essence the backup plan for those who will age to death prior to the advent of working rejuvenation therapies, and is the only other approach to offer any chance at a much longer life in the future.

The only obvious sign this is the office of a cryonics company sits on the windowsill: a stainless-steel vacuum vessel about the size of a lobster pot. It's meant to transport a human brain, and if used for its true purpose and not as a decoration, it would deliver that brain to a larger storage container filled with liquid nitrogen. The brain would be preserved there - the liquid nitrogen topped off once in a while - for however long the science and technology community takes to solve some vexing problems. First, how to repair the tissue damage caused by freezing. Second, and more important, how to gain access to the data inside - the neurons and connections and impulses that constitute a person's memories, emotions, and personality - and bring it all back to life, either in another, healthier body or uploaded into a computer. Otherwise, the office looks like a small apartment, and it is also that. It's the pied-a-terre of Danila Medvedev and Valerija Pride, life partners and co-founders of Moscow-based KrioRus, as well as a crash pad for eager young transhumanists who need a place to stay while working on projects intended to expedite the quest for immortality.

They're discussing the fate of a brain in Spain - the brain of a man described by Medvedev as "Spain's leading cryonicist," who's just died. Despite running a Spanish-language site dedicated to cryonics, the man had no plans in place to actually be frozen upon his death. His wife has managed to get his body put on ice, and now Medvedev and Pride are trying to figure out how to have his brain removed and stored in a way that will allow it to be transferred into KrioRus's care. These are the kinds of logistical challenges Medvedev is trying to iron out as he and Pride work to make KrioRus the leading cryonics company for Europe and Asia. The best way to cryopreserve is to replace all the water in the body with a chemical that essentially turns the tissue into glass as it freezes. Vitrification, as the process is known, prevents the damage caused by ice crystals when a body is frozen in its natural state. But vitrification has its own flaw: No one knows how to reverse it. Medvedev describes this as a minor challenge. The important thing, he says, quoting American nanotechnologist Ralph Merkle, is that "information is not destroyed" by freezing. They'll work it out later.

"Of course, the goal is to have the perfect preservation, but it depends on the situation," Medvedev says. "You can have the best technology in the world, but if it's not available in Barcelona it doesn't help you much." And any preservation, cryonicists say, is better than none. Truly, it's all just a best guess. Cryonics was first proposed by the physicist Robert Ettinger in his 1964 book, The Prospect of Immortality. Five years later, the first human was frozen, and a small, devoted community of cryonicists (almost all of them in America) have been debating best practices ever since. Today, the world leader is Alcor Life Extension Foundation, started in 1972 and based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Alcor has 148 patients stashed in tanks filled with liquid nitrogen. Then there's the Cryonics Institute, established in 1976. It has 114 patients in storage in a suburb of Detroit and is known for being cheaper than Alcor and for having a strong preference for freezing heads over full bodies.

Unlike its American rivals, KrioRus doesn't use stainless steel for its dewars. Instead, it uses a fiberglass and resin composite made by a company that builds racing yachts from the same material. The dewars stand inside a 2,000-square-foot hangar, but they don't really need to. "The walls of the building are actually weaker than the walls of the dewars," Medvedev says. "People tend to think that patients should be stored in buildings. There are few technical reasons behind it, just tradition and irrationality." "First you need everything functional," adds Dmitry Kvasnikov, who's been listening quietly. "Then once it is functional, you can make it look pretty." The company has big plans. It will soon move to a permanent home at an agricultural college outside Tver, a few hours west of Moscow. And KrioRus's principals and clients all make clear that the cryonics operation is merely the opening salvo of a far larger campaign, the quest for immortality. Medvedev and Pride are also co-directors of the Russian Transhumanist Movement (RTM), an activist organization and incubator for ideas to advance the cause of extending the human life span until we've achieved immortality. Generally speaking, transhumanists believe that technology is advancing at an exponential rate and that sometime in the future, death will be overcome. They like to speak of aging as a disease that can be cured, and depending on the transhumanist you're speaking with, she probably believes either that new bodies will be engineered and hooked up to our heads or that our minds and memories will live forever inside a machine. In either case, all you need is your brain, which is why most transhumanists, Medvedev and Pride included, think it's unnecessary to freeze your entire body.

KrioRus was born out of their enthusiasm for the transhumanist cause. Cryonics is the starting point. "It is Plan B," Medvedev admits. No one wants to be frozen. But dying is worse. As Mikhail Batin, an entrepreneur, transhumanist, and KrioRus client says: "It's the only alternative we have at the moment to death. It is definitely better to be frozen than buried or burned. Cryonics is the best action in the worst circumstances."

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-decapitate-and-chill/


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