The cryonics industry, and cryopreservation as a technological capability, are important. Very important. The absence of a truly large scale cryonics industry means that more than a billion lives are lost permanently every two decades; intelligent, thinking, feeling minds vanishing into the abyss of non-existence in vast numbers. The world is that way, but it doesn't have to be. Given a better, more rational history of technological progress and patient advocacy, we could now be living in a world in which the funds presently spent on funerary arrangements and monuments would instead go towards the cryopreservation of the recently dead, allowing them a chance at renewed life in a future era.
At some point in the future, relentless technological progress will lead to the means to revive vitrified individuals, and provide them with restored bodies, for costs that are trivial compared to the vast wealth possessed by a society that has mastered those and countless other abilities. The mind is an arrangement of atoms. The body also. Increasingly fine control over arrangement of atoms is well understood to be the long-term future of human technology. In addition to all of the other dreams realized by mature molecular nanotechnology, it will allow for restoration of vitrified minds to life and the construction of new bodies, biological or otherwise, from feedstock. Storage at liquid nitrogen temperatures, with the structure of the mind intact, allows clinically dead individuals to wait indefinitely for that time.
Unfortunately, cryonics has remained a persistently fringe industry since its inception in the 1960s, supported by a few philanthropists and a small community of activists, researchers, and advocates. Across a span of decades in which more than two billion people have died, only a few hundred have both had the opportunity and made the choice to be cryopreserved. An admirable amount of progress has been made in improving the quality of cryopreservation procedures and storage facilities by the primary organizations, given the little funding available, but it is still far too little, achieved far too slowly.
Like the cryonics industry, the rejuvenation industry was once a small, fringe concern. Yet it has now become an accepted young industry, passing the point at which it rapidly achieved acceptance and interest, growing to billions of dollars in high profile funding over the last decade. What could bring cryonics to the same sort of growth and expansion enjoyed by the rejuvenation industry? I would argue that this sort of progress is derived entirely from proof of technological capabilities. That the growth in rejuvenation derives initially from single gene alterations that extend life in short-lived laboratory species, but to a much greater degree from the widespread demonstrations of rejuvenation in mice produced by senolytic drugs.
In my view of the world, technology determines society. Technological capabilities are the greatest of the influences that shape the world we live in, our lives. More importantly, there will be only limited support at best for any field for which there are few or no established proofs of concept. The best that any of us could do to accelerate the growth of the cryonics industry, and support for cryonics as a field of human endeavor, with the goal of saving as many lives as possible, as soon as possible, is thus to produce proof of concept studies, technology demonstrations, technological capabilities. The rest will follow. Not out of the blue, and not without a great deal of work on the part of the community and particularly the staff at the cryonics provider organizations, but it will inevitably happen after that point is reached.
At the top of the list and probably the capability that will do the most to advance cryonics is reversible vitrification of organs. The broader research community is close to achieving this goal in a practical fashion, which would mean making at least one of the various approaches reliable enough to build a company, and then introducing this technology into the organ transplant industry. The logistics of organ transplantation would become much less challenging given the ability to indefinitely store tissues in a state of vitrification, with minimal resulting harm. Those same benefits will apply to xenotransplantation and engineering of universal or patient-matched organs to order. It is exactly the fact that there is such a large, obvious market for this capability that puts it at the top of the list. When it is evident that a heart can be vitrified, thawed, and transplanted, then it becomes that much less of a leap to consider the merits of the vitrification of people at the end of life.
Another set of capabilities revolve around (a) quality of cryopreservation, and (b) determining the quality of a cryopreservation via scanning technologies rather than dissection and inspection. The quality of cryopreservation is in turn a field of research that, beyond mechanical questions of perfusion and fraction, operates at the cutting edge of neuroscience: where is the mind stored; how do we best determine whether those nanoscale structures are preserved; and is that even possible without physical access to the brain? This is an area of research of great interest to cryonics organizations, but is one of those in which they are most resource constrained. It isn't cheap to work with large mammals and imaging. Given a potential improvement to cryopreservation protocols, one can in principle run large mammal studies, say in pigs, and dissect the brain to determine quality of preservation. But that is less convincing than being able to show that a cryopreserved patient is in optimal condition.
The one technological capability that many feel is required for cryonics to ever become close to mainstream, where mainstream means, let's say, 1% of the population is signed up, is of course the revival of a vitrified individual. I feel that even setting aside the question of repair of aging or replacement of tissues, for the sake of argument let us say we're talking about a healthy young individual, then this ability still lies far in the future. It is a tough challenge, and cryonics will have to prosper without that demonstration. Which is why it is important to go through the list of other incremental steps towards that goal, those that could in principle be achieved with a reasonable level of funding and support.