Cryonics refers to the long-term storage of people at liquid nitrogen temperatures, starting as close to clinical death as possible, and involving cryoprotectant-induced vitrification of tissues rather than freezing. The goal is preservation of the fine structure of the brain, as that is where the data of the mind is encoded. Given a good enough preservation, a sufficient storage of the mind, then the possibility of later restoration exists, based on the advances in biotechnology and molecular nanotechnology foreseen for the coming century. Cryonics is thus an important service, albeit one that receives little attention and funding. Despite that thin profile, cryonics providers have nonetheless survived and evolved over more than four decades. Several hundred people are now preserved for the long term, and this option remains the only alternative to the grave for the countless others who will age to death prior to the advent of comprehensive rejuvenation therapies.
The primary challenges faced by the cryonics industry all relate to the small size of the community. It is largely non-profit, with only a few distinct organizations - the long-established non-profits Alcor and Cryonics Institute, and relative newcomers KrioRus, CryoSuisse, and some smaller groups in other countries that have yet to build a viable provider organization. Everyone knows everyone else. The resources available for operations, research, and expansion are small in scope. The number of people joining the community each year to contribute meaningfully in some way is similarly small. There have been instances in past years of the sort of cabin fever and clashes of personality that tend to occur in small, largely volunteer and non-profit communities. Anyone who has spent time in passionate movements knows how this goes when growth to the next stage doesn't materialize. People are people.
Cryonics is a long-term project, much more so than rejuvenation research. The framework of a rejuvenation toolkit should be largely sketched out, with first and second generation clinical applications available in all of its categories, twenty years from now, adding a significant number of years to health and life expectancy at 60 or 80. After that, it is a matter of filling in the spaces and incremental improvement, following the usual cycle of growth for a broad area of technology. For cryonics, on the other hand, one has to delve deeply into speculation on technological progress to, say, make the argument that it will be a plausible goal to reverse the cryopreservation of an individual in 2050 who was preserved using the methods of 2050. Maybe that could be achieved, maybe not. Repairing people preserved in the 20th century with no vitrification or partial vitrification and a fair load of ice crystals and fracture damage is a whole other story, however, something that will require mature molecular nanotechnology of the sort that may not emerge until much later in the century. But everything much past 2040 is very challenging to predict.
That cryonics is a long-term project puts a great deal of pressure on the community to engage younger members. There are enough of the prime of life folk at present to take over from the second generation leadership as needed in the years immediately ahead - the first generation who led in the 1970s and 1980s being retired, cryopreserved already, or more permanently dead and gone. But what comes afterwards? The longest standing cryonics organizations are 40 years old, give or take, and they may well have to continue for another century. There are many organizations, companies even, considerably older than that span of time. But how did they survive over generations? They did so through the size of their extended communities: workers, supporters, customers, patrons. Continuity of culture and commitment requires community, and when that community is small there is the very real risk of it sputtering out, as small communities have done since time immemorial.
The solution to all of this is growth. But how? The cryonics community has for four decades sought growth primarily through membership, through individuals signing up for the service of cryopreservation. This has been a very slow bootstrapping process. There are thousands of us, but not very many thousands, and most are entirely silent partners in this endeavor. That process will continue grinding away, but I don't think anyone should count on a sudden explosion of interest in the membership model of cryopreservation any time soon. If that was going to happen, it has had many opportunities to do so.
I would say that for growth in the community over the next twenty years, we should be looking more to customers than to supporters of other sorts. That growth could arrive from the array of technological spin-offs that can be produced from the methodologies of cryonics and related cryobiology. In particular indefinite tissue preservation via vitrification, something that is beginning to look plausible for whole organs. Reversible vitrification of large tissues such as whole organs is on the near horizon, a capability that would revolutionize the organ donation and transplantation industry. Members of the cryonics community are well aware of this, and efforts to find commercial growth have in fact been underway for years. This includes companies founded by community members, such as 21st Century Medicine and Arigos Biomedical. This, also, has proven to be a tough road - but I think it one with a better chance of opening up the cryonics industry to greater investment and attention than other approaches.
In a better world than ours, cryonics as an industry was implemented and sizable by the mid-20th century, soon after low enough temperatures could be reliably maintained indefinitely, and sufficient knowledge of cryoprotectants was established. It spread, replacing the funerary industry as the primary end of life choice. Instead of billions of graves and markers of individual extinction, billions of stored brains would be awaiting the chance to live again in a better, brighter future of limitless resources and expansion of humanity to the stars. This is still a goal that could be achieved in the years ahead, a way to dramatically reduce the number of people permanently lost to oblivion. First, however, the small, essential, and largely overlooked cryonics community needs to find its path to growth.