Commercial Success Would Solve Most of the Challenges of the Cryonics Community

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.

Comments

The problem with cryonics is that we do not have a successful "product" yet. We can offer all kinds of speculative arguments for how reanimation can be done using biological 3-D printing, stem cell regeneration, whole body induced cell turnover, etc. But until it is actually done, it remains a speculative enterprise. It is this credibility gap that is the fundamental barrier to rapid growth and acceptance of cryonics on a large scale.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at January 4th, 2018 5:50 PM

I agree with what Abelard says here. It's all speculative with no guarantees, and to my eyes it seems like it would be a last in, first out type of thing if it were ever successful. But like Reason mentioned, it's difficult to predict things past 2040.

In addition, the majority of people are already skeptical or hostile towards tinkering with aging and longevity, let alone something like cryonics. It's a much tougher sell in my opinion. As an extension of that thought, there seems to be no shortage of articles and people(like this poorly written and sourced gem that I stumbled upon today: https://www.topic.com/the-expensive-art-of-living-forever -The author's twitter tirade was amusing as well) that like to speak out and make generalizations about these things and the people that support them, and I don't see that changing any time soon especially in regards to cryonics. Things like this have an influence on public opinion unfortunately. I definitely think it will be far harder to drum up financial support for this area, even in comparison to something like SENS. Unless of course Google decides to throw a billion dollars into it like they did with Calico... which seems unlikely

Posted by: Ham at January 4th, 2018 7:48 PM

I wouldn't say his tirade is amusing.
I'd say it's what we should expect to see more off in the future because we don't have a rational outlet which can give a more sane face to our community. He's nutpicking, sure. But does he have a pool of rational transhumanist to build his opinion on?

If we don't want to be treated like crazy people we probably shouldn't let crazy people speak for us. Just a thought.

Aubrey for what it's worth - he should really start to think of himself more like an advocate than an engineer. Either that or he should be replaced in public speaking by someone else who can do the job better. You can't sway an audience with a copypasted presentation that hasn't changed much in the last decade.
The world we live in right now is very different from 2005. The financial crisis of 2008 happened, global warming is pretty much in the news every day and there are more and more Western people leaning very heavily to the hard left of the political spectrum screaming "iniquity" at every step.

As for RAAD - I personally wish it never came into existence. Doesn't seem to have provided more funds for hard science. If anything the damn old Californians are buying more and more snake oil rapamycin and vitamin b potions if anything. And it provides ample food for bad press.

Posted by: Anonymoose at January 4th, 2018 9:22 PM

"to engage younger members" is a problem across the board with life-extension/longevity. It doesn't even come on peoples' radar until they start to realize they will die, which mostly doesn't happen until later in life.

Posted by: Neal Asher at January 5th, 2018 4:45 AM

Anonymoose,

Perhaps amusing was the wrong word. Irrational, extreme and cherry picked is probably more fitting. With a clear lack of understanding what he's moaning about. It's easy to take the most extreme people of any group and use them to promote your crusade against their cause. I'm in agreement with you on RAAD... it accomplishes little to nothing, and it is ripe for criticism which leads to generalizations about everyone who supports aging research.

Posted by: Ham at January 5th, 2018 4:54 AM

Im a transplant survivor my own and think when organs can be preserved it could slowly change. Im a monthly donor to Organ Preservation Alliance (OPA) and of the $ 1919 donated to the Cryoprize I have donated $ 1219. It was frustrating see so few people donate and not donate more.

Posted by: Norse at January 5th, 2018 5:52 AM

Im also a paying associate member to Alcor and I think everyone who supports the idea of cryonics should be. It only costs a few $ pr month.

Posted by: Norse at January 5th, 2018 5:59 AM

The premise of RAAD Fest is empirically false any way: There is no "revolution against aging and death." Life expectancy in the United States has started to DECREASE, and actuaries who manage pension plans have taken this trend into account.

Posted by: Mark Plus at January 5th, 2018 11:45 AM

"Transhumanists are also almost exclusively white."

Except for the Iranian F.M. Esfandiary, the Egyptian Ramez Naam, and the Jewish transhumanists Ray Kurzweil, Eliezer Yudkowsky and Martine Rothblatt.

And not to mention Russian Cosmists, Latin American transhumanists and ones from various Asian countries.

The ideas transcend Western parochialism, in other words. Mark O'Connell makes the same mistake about the demographics of transhumanism in his book, "To Be A Machine," and I took him to task for that in my review of it on Amazon.

Posted by: Mark Plus at January 5th, 2018 12:07 PM

@Neal Asher:

>"to engage younger members" is a problem across the board with life-extension/longevity. It doesn't even come on peoples' radar until they start to realize they will die, which mostly doesn't happen until later in life.

I became interested in these ideas when I was 14 years old, in 1974, when I read Bob Ettinger's book, "Man Into Superman."

Posted by: Mark Plus at January 5th, 2018 12:12 PM

I don't know what to make of the proliferation of new cryonics organizations in Oregon and Florida, the Timeship in Texas, and in Russia, China, Spain, Switzerland and Australia. It has gotten to the point that if you showed their locations on an animation of the globe, it would look like the opening scene in "Game of Thrones."

Posted by: Mark Plus at January 5th, 2018 1:26 PM

I hope this field gains some momentum once the first cryo-preserved organ is transplaneted into a human.

Posted by: Jim at January 5th, 2018 2:40 PM

The more immediate focus is rightly on enabling reliable organ storage - on better, less toxic cryoprotectants, and on improved methods for rapidly and safely warming the vitrified tissues and organs. All areas of active research. If we can get to the stage that a larger organ - such as kidneys - can be routinely preserved and rewarmed and remain functional when transplanted then that's a game changer in terms of plausibility for cryonics.

Once we get to that point then we need to be looking past the current situation of only preserving the already dead and be pitching it as an option for terminally ill people. An ambulance to the future. That will require a big shift in legislation, but a necessary one for cryonics to gain wider acceptance. I think we are already seeing moves towards this with KrioRus suggesting siting a facility in Switzerland to take advantage of that country's euthanasia laws. As we all know the current arrangements are far from ideal - waiting until after death means people are preserved in sub-optimal conditions, with the added complication (to the already big challenges of cryopreservation) of fixing whatever actually killed them. As it stands it supplies an easy target for the opponents of cryonics when bashing its feasibility - it's fantasy, it's a scam, it's creepy nerds freezing dead people etc.

On that I do feel that at the moment there are people who are using the substantial technical challenges of cryonics to mask their actual principled objections.

Posted by: The Rage at January 5th, 2018 4:54 PM

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