Technological Capabilities to Accelerate the Growth of the Cryonics Industry

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.


Ah.... another misguided money allocation into quackery.
Why not put your money in cloning & mind transfer? LOL!

Posted by: Jones at March 12th, 2022 4:30 AM

I'm signed up for cryonics, because the science is sound, and because it's cheap enough to be worthwhile for me.

I have no hope that we'll be able to 'restore' or 'unfreeze' people into their original bodies though. At the current state of the art, there's a ridiculous amount of biological damage, and I suspect the effort to reverse/fix that damage will far exceed the effort needed to simply scan and upload. If I do happen to be cryo-preserved, I fully expect to wake up as an upload in a simulated environment.

On the plus side, I'm quite ok with that. Being able to make backups and be geographically distributed is more important to me than wearing an organic carcass.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at March 12th, 2022 5:42 AM

Cryopreservation is an important goal, one which I fully support and will sign up for at some point. But, still, I have one major concern. It isn't whether we'll have the technological capability to restore the person in the future. Of course, we will, assuming their mind made into the cryopreservation. At some point, I suppose, it will even become trivial. But, by the time we have the technology in hand, will anyone care enough to do it. Right now, the tanks are painstakingly cared for by people who care a great deal about it and hope to take advantage of it someday. But, what will happen when everyone who would have wanted it has already transcended biological death in some way? Any thoughts welcome.

Posted by: Neil at March 12th, 2022 12:35 PM

Neil - that's part of the risk profile. When you're crunching the numbers on whether or not cryonics is worth the money, you'll want to include your estimates of the chance that bad things like "people of the future not caring" happen.

Before I signed up, I spent a few days thinking about it and making estimates and crunching numbers before I decided it was worthwhile. I'd advise everyone to do the same - your estimates may be flawed, but flawed numbers are easier to reason about than flawed gut instinct without numbers.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at March 12th, 2022 4:44 PM

I'd consider cryo-preservation if I could pay them AFTER they've revived me.

Posted by: James Smith at March 14th, 2022 4:47 AM

@Dennis Towne: If your cryopreserved brain could be scanned and uploaded to a digital substrate you would not wake up in a simulated environment, a copy of you would, but your current consciousness would cease to exist (I know this is a common debate here but I thought I'd mention it). Luckily, in coming years or decades, preservation techniques will likely result in less damage, and rebuilding/rejuvenation techniques will be better as well, so there's still hope.

@James Smith: Good point. One could envision a legal or economic structure that would allow that. IE People are contractually obligated to revive you and will be rewarded once they do it.

Posted by: K at March 14th, 2022 4:48 PM

K - I fully understand that if a copy of you were to wake up in a simulated environment, that it would merely be a copy of you. That's what you've decided will happen.

However, if a copy of me were to wake up in a simulated environment, then I would wake up in that simulated environment, even if my perceived timeline was discontinuous. If there were multiple copies of me running in simulated environments, each of them would also be me. I would be all of them. "Which one is the master" is an irrelevant question, and it has no answer.

The way each of us handle the copying scenario is dependent on our definition of self: our definitions of "me" and "I" and "what exactly is it that makes me me?" In my case, my definitions consider all of my copies/instances to be me, and all of me together are still me. There's just more of me.

Most people don't have the same "multihosted, copy drift allowed" sense of self that I do. However, that's their problem, not mine. I would be quite comfortable running as multiple parallel instances cooperating with myself.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at March 14th, 2022 6:28 PM

This should be an easy choice to make: as things stand right now, the only way to have a chance to safeguard yourself from nonexistence is to sign up for cryonics. So, either you want to try to continue to exist despite the risks of living, or you don't. There is no alternative.

As to the mind-uploading business, that's a copy of you, it is not you. You are your consciousness, period. Your consciousness is, as far as anyone has been able to tell, an expression of your biological matrix, and can only be transferred over time in a manner similar to how the brain naturally switches from one neuron to another, and so forth, if it can be transferred at all.

Therefore, the only reasonable solution at this time is to sign up for cryo with a reputable organziation and hope to be restored in your own body with your brain as it now is; the rest of you (we can hope) would be replaceable as a function of that process, but it may well be better to err on the side of caution and preserve all of you if you can afford it.

Other than cryonics improvements, I can hope for further insight into the nature of consciousness and developments into both useful biological brain tissue supplmentation/rejuvenation and hopefully workable human artificial neurons and the ability to integrate that into the brain mass. If we're ever going to become digital beings, as ourselves, that's the route that will be needed.

Posted by: Sadi Khan at March 14th, 2022 11:00 PM

Thank you @Dennis Towne, I appreciate the response. I agree that we know what will happen if we don't try it, so attempting the experiment is the only sensible thing to do.

Posted by: Neil at March 15th, 2022 12:47 PM

To make cryonics more scientific:
First the researchers should freeze and defrost & revive a mouse
Then , a larger animal and then a human.
Experimental proof of principle will make it scientific.
Cryonics originated in science fiction - which is not a science - it is an art ( art of story telling and writing/ publishing)
Once cryonics is demonstrated to be effective method to freeze, defrost & and revive the dead, and independently confirmed by other scientists - it will become more popular and become a growing industry.

Posted by: nicholas d. at March 16th, 2022 8:51 PM
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