I attended a cryonics conference over the weekend. The purpose of cryonics is to freeze people when they die until some unknown point in the future, when theoretically most life-threatening factors are eliminated (i.e. when cancer, old age, heart disease, etc. are cured). The conference was one of the most mind-blowing experiences of my life, and there's a lot of ways I could talk about it, but I'll limit myself to just one here for now.
I have a principle called the Banality of Futurism. Science fiction usually portrays a future chock full of mind-blowing or exotic experiences. However, our past experiences with technological enhancement seem to be a letdown. The world hasn't turned out like the Jetsons after all. Instead, innovation has a way of quickly becoming banal.
You could apply the banality principle of futurism to cryonics. One way to think about cryonics is that it's just better healthcare or just better health insurance. Consider this scenario: First, you sign up for a full-body cryo, taking out a life insurance policy for $200,000. Then 20 years later, you get cancer and are frozen. 50 years later, cancer is cured and they unfreeze you and cure your cancer. But now you're an old man in the year 2082. While as core diseases like cancer and heart disease are cured, people are still dying of old age.
And so you decide to sign-up for cryo again and take out another life insurance policy, this time for 75,000 yuan since costs have gone up and you're now in China. But you don't have enough money to afford that yet and the job market is completely changed. So you go back to school, take out a student loan, then try to get a job with a company that offers cryo as a benefit. 30 years later, you die of old age and go back into cryo.
You then wake up 100 years later, old age is cured, but people can still die of car accidents. However, there's portable cryo facilities in ambulances so that, if you have the right insurance, you can be preserved right then on the spot. And so you go back to school and take out another life insurance policy.
According to this pattern, cryo becomes kind of like lasik, which you need repeated every 10-20 years. i.e. it's a hassle. In each of those times you get frozen and re-awakened, you have to go through the rigamarole of re-connecting with new descendants who may or may not be interested in you. You have to re-build your financial base and maybe learn a new language to integrate with the dominant hegemony. Maybe by the second or third time you do cryo, you think, "You know what, if I knew it was going to be this much of a hassle to wait for immortality, I wouldn't have done it!"
Of course, the cryo community could say, "Well, you can state your wishes to Alcor that you only want to be revived when we're cyborgs or our minds have melded with machines." However, we could probably find ways to banalize those scenarios as well. (Cyborg bodies are glorified wheelchairs let's say.)
posted by phil on Tuesday Oct 23, 2012 1:56 AM