The small, long-standing cryonics community and industry is focused on saving lives by offering the possibility of low-temperature storage at death, using cryoprotectants to induce a state of vitrification rather than straight freezing, a shot at preserving the structure and data of the mind for a future society capable of revival from this state. This has been an ongoing project for quite some time now, since the 1960s or so, albeit with a small budget and few research programs.
I was recently in New York to attend the 50th anniversary gathering for the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, among the oldest of cryonics organizations. It was an occasion also marking the launch of a new book by Robert Freitas, a specialist in molecular nanotechnology and nanomedicine. The book, Cryostasis Revival, is essentially a 700 page scientific paper that outlines, in detail, what we know of the research and development that would be required to revive a vitrified individual. This starts as a matter of neuroscience, based our knowledge of the brain and its tissues and function, but encompasses a great deal more as well.
People interested in progress in cryonics tend to be interested in progress towards the development of rejuvenation therapies, though there is too little overlap in the other direction. Both were once more fringe than they are now, but work on rejuvenation has expanded and found far more support than is the case for cryonics. There is an old debate, often held between those with a foot in both camps: given that most of us in the later half of life expect the likely pace of progress in rejuvenation therapies to result in a sizeable improvement in old age, but not prevent us from dying from the effects of aging, why are we not fully focused instead on enabling cryonics to become a robust, large, dynamic industry? Isn't the primary object to avoid death, to avoid ceasing to exist? Why not then work on the better solution to that specific goal, rather than a path that can only improve health and thereby longevity in the time we have left?
I was asked this again at the Alcor event by Emil Kendziorra, co-founder of Tomorrow Biostasis, a comparatively new European cryonics venture that may well be pushing some of the older organizations to modernize more than they would otherwise have done, in his role as provocateur. He makes a habit of this, it is a part of his advocacy for the cause.
While I can't talk to the decisions of others, I can shed some light on why I am presently working on rejuvenation, and only plan to focus more of my time on cryonics later in life. Pre-pandemic, I said - to Emil Kendziorra, even - that ten years from now I would be spending more time on cryonics. It may still be ten years at this point post-pandemic, if early access to reprogramming or a combination of other plausible technologies pans out over the next five years and proves influential on health. My timing to switch to work on cryonics is in one sense driven by my projected health trajectory. At what point in the future do I predict that I only have 20 years left before there is a real risk of serious, debilitating age-related disease that drastically limits my ability to contribute? At that point I should put a great deal more effort into making those 20 years a productive time for the cryonics industry.
In the more general sense, considering health and other factors, I will put more work into cryonics when the balance shifts to the point at which improvement in the state of cryonics will be more of a benefit to me than improvements in the state of rejuvenation. "Balance" is a loose word. Guesstimation and gut feel goes into (a) what I think can be achieved for many people over the next few decades via improvements in rejuvenation therapies, (b) what I think can be achieved for myself 20-30 years from now in rejuvenation by helping now, (c) what I can do for the cryonics industry now versus later, and (d) the likelihood that my present efforts in the biotech sector will produce significant personal capital to devote to cryonics research, development, and industry growth.
That last point is an important one. Improvement in the practical implementation of low-temperature cryopreservation proceeds at a very slow pace, with minimal funding. This is a consequence of it being a small field. Yet we can argue quite strongly that the lack of demonstrated capabilities, such as, let us say, reversible vitrification of organs used in the tissue engineering and organ donation fields, is the biggest impediment to convincing the world that cryonics is real. Many people feel that cryonics won't become even a minority concern in a meaningful way until the first person is brought back successfully - but that is a long way in the future, and so we must find incremental steps along the way that will help make a convincing argument to laypeople that this is possible in principle.
At this point, it would probably cost $10 million to $20 million to push reversible vitrification of organs past the point at which more funding will arise organically and industry will inevitably form. Either philanthropy focused on academic-style programs or a deep-pocketed venture backed company might achieve the same result. But money doesn't grow on trees, and so far even the more visionary philanthropists have committed only a fraction of this amount to this sort of cryonics research. Turning up to put my shoulder to the wheel with the intent to find this funding is one thing. Turning up with those funds in hand is quite another. The odds of either path working out, and when they will work out, are worth considering when running the calculus of when to become more involved.
In any case, I am sympathetic to the argument that one should be working to speed up the growth and development of a future cryonics industry. One day I will do more than talking about it. Just not today.