Thoughts: Why Cryonics?
I decided to write the following exploration of my reasons for signing up for
cryonics after I was caught unprepared by a friend who was surprised that I
was signed up. It seemed to me that I handled the conversation poorly; I
think I gave the impression at first that it was an easy decision, because it
should be obvious that cryonics will work. It isn't obvious, and it's not a
simple decision. But I think the chances are good enough that if you want to
live a long life even in an uncertain future, it's a reasonable wager.
I like living. I want to continue living for as long as possible. I have no
fear of the future. I believe it is plausible that technology will make much
longer lifespans possible within 20 years or so. There are two possible
approaches to position yourself to be able to take advantage of the
possibility: 1) follow the best health and longevity advice you can find and
hope you survive until real life-extension is developed, or 2) prepare to
survive accidents, disease, or the delayed arrival of the technology, so you
can "come back" after serious life extension is perfected.
The two seem to be independent choices. If you want to live as long a
productive life as possible, there doesn't seem to be any reason not to pursue
the first alternative, whether or not you pursue the second. The best advice
I'm aware of now (discounting caloric restriction, which seems to severely
impact quality of life, though there is substantial evidence that it prolongs
lifespan) is available at realage.com.
I have recently added vitamin E and calcium to my daily regime based on the
information there. (I hadn't realized how much of a difference they were
worth.) (According to the survey there, I'm doing fairly well; they say my
expectations are the equal of the average person almost 10 years younger than
The remaining question is whether there are technologies that provide a
reasonable chance of succeeding on the second point. Will future medicine be
able to bring back victims of accident or old age if appropriate care is taken
of the body? I believe there's enough evidence for and research into
cryonics to justify my investment in it. I
weight the probabilities more heavily toward improvement in the technology in
time to help than on the side of the current technologies being sufficient,
but signing up now is likely to be cheaper than waiting.
It is completely unclear to me whether current approaches to reduction of
ischemia (damage due to lack of oxygen supply to tissues before freezing is
complete), and freezing damage will be sufficient, but my estimates of how
soon I am likely to die point to a greater importance of the future
technologies than of those available immediately. The added protection from
current membership is well covered by the improvement in the odds and the
reduction in price of life insurance due to signing up now. Life insurance
(the easiest way to pay for cryonic coverage) is cheaper when you are young.
Membership in Alcor is well within my budget. Membership and occasional
donations increase the likelihood that the membership and budgets at Alcor (or
its competitors) will grow.
The remaining question is whether technology can ever revive the frozen. Of
course, the answer may vary with the technologies used for any particular
suspension. I would much prefer to be frozen later rather than sooner,
whatever the timeframe. On the other hand, I'd strongly prefer to be frozen
in the near future rather than allow my body to decay. The latter is final
The following includes some more detailed reasoning about whether
nanotechnology will make revival possible in a usable way. I think I felt
compelled to write these arguments down because I find myself taking the role
of nanosceptic some of the time. As it turns out below, that appears to be a
more a matter of when I think these technologyies will be perfected, and how
certain we can be about the outcome than because I doubt the end result.
Nanotechnology is likely to be developed in the near future.
Drexler and Merkle have done a reasonable job of demonstrating that there
are multiple development paths to success, that the intermediate steps
along each path are independently valuable (and thus likely to be
pursued), that the research and development are progressing, and that
physics allows the technology to function. Nanotechnology is very likely
to arrive. Gadgets built by (non-universal) assemblers will probably be
available by 2020 to people who can currently afford a high-end PC. I
think universal assemblers are much harder to predict.
Development of AI Will Take a Long Time.
Drexler, Merkle, Calvin, and Minsky
notwithstanding. I don't believe there's strong evidence that we will see
machine designs better than human designs in the next thirty years. Machines
will get faster, they will have better databases, they will consider more
factors than they do currently. But, no one has talked about the problem of
maintaining consistency across a design, ensuring that subcomponents work
together, or even automatic debugging or integration of a large project. The
various kinds of management and organization skils that are required for
large-scale development have not been addressed in any of the AI research or
development I've heard about so far. (Please let me know why I'm wrong about
Design will be the Bottleneck.
Given the shortcomings of AI, design and the attention of human designers
will be the bottleneck in the development of new applications of nanotech.
The current attention paid to building blocks, and to the outlines of
medical applications will turn out to be crucial. I agree with those
pushing in these directions that these efforts are already on the critical
path to development of medical technology.
Nanotech will make Revival of Cryonic Patients Possible.
Life and consciousness are emergent effects of low-level chemical
processes. Putting bodies and brains back together will be complicated
processes, but there's nothing inherently impossible about it.
If it's Possible, Some Interested People will Pursue and Ensure that
Revival Techniques are Developed.
Mainstream medicine may or may not develop the ability to revive the
suspended, but if it doesn't some individual (or small group) will fund
Revival and reconstruction will be expensive and difficult. Some of those
with frozen spouses or friends will be of above average intelligence,
ability, and perserverence, and will ensure that the necessary technology
develops. Some of those who are first successfully revived will also have
the tenacity required and will be able to gather the wealth necessary to
revive those who remain frozen.
There's no telling at this point how many attempts it will take before a
revival attempt succeeds, or how many of the first will not make it. I'm
not hoping to be one of the first revival attempts.
Nanotech Won't make us all Omnipotent.
I've heard Ralph Merkle project the development of nanotech to the point
where any household would be able to fund the development of the necessary
tools and techniques to enable revival of suspended family members. I'm
not convinced. Development of technologies in the past seems to have
approached the point where most technologies that get
developed gradually drop in price to be accessible to more and
more households. I can't think of any technology that has increased in
accessibility to the point that most households have access to the
training and tools necessary to develop new products. This leads me to
doubt that the ability to develop cryonic revival tools will inevitably
become ubiquitous eventually. It will be an expensive proposition.
Merkle's argument tries to prove too much.