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The cost of universal cryonics

37 Post author: handoflixue 26 May 2011 02:33AM

INTRODUCTION

I recently got sparked by both Eliezer's post on Cryonics(http://lesswrong.com/lw/qx/timeless_identity/) and lsparrish's post on the economies of scale(http://lesswrong.com/lw/2f5/cryonics_wants_to_be_big/) that go in to cryonics, to do some actual research. Unfortunately, while both authors are happy to assert that there are "economies of scale" at work, there doesn't seem to actually be any published research on the matter. If I happen to be wrong, and someone else has more accurate numbers, I'll be pleasantly surprised to see myself corrected :)

Alcor Costs as of 1990 (http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/CostOfCryonicsTables.txt) seems like a reasonably reliable source of information. I'll be using them primarily because they were the only institute I could find that actually provides a break-down of their costs. The accompany article(http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/CostOfCryonics.html) suggests that the labor rates and equipment markups are actually excessively optimistic, but it gives a simple cost of $18,908.76 for neurosuspension (not whole body). Maintenance costs are given as $66.08 annually, which would require a $6600 investment to yield suitable interest. Call it $25K total.

Now, figuring out how economies of scale will affect this is tricky. I'll go ahead and run two estimates, but they're both reasonably crude. I'm trying to be optimistic in my math, because my starting premise is "cryonics is not financially viable, even with economies of scale", and I don't want my numbers to favour my starting hypothesis. It's also worth noting that I am assuming that the major cryonics facilities are already taking advantage of some economies of scale: it is quite true that one can get a 90% discount on liquid nitrogen, if you start at the price that someone would pay for a liter for personal usage; it is far less likely that a business that already dropped it's prices from $0.50/L to $0.13/L [1] can still claim a 90% savings by sufficient economies of scale.

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METHOD 1

The actual cost of the chemicals and equipment won't scale dramatically - you can't get a 90% discount just because you're huge, unless the company is making a 10x profit off the item normally. A 50% reduction due to bulk savings is therefor a reasonably optimistic assumption.

Transportation is going to remain an issue, although certainly as this becomes more "main stream", you could imagine hospitals having a cryogenics ward and thus only having transportation when someone dies outside a hospital. A quick peruse of Google says ~50% of deaths occur in a hospital, so we can cut transportation costs in half right there. Obviously, transportation costs will also drop as there are more facilities, because distances decrease. However, it's also worth noting that, should we want this to be a truly universal option, transportation costs will rise to include transportation of people who do not live near major urban centers. We should also be able to claim economies of scale on the financial cost of vehicles and equipment. That probably works out about the same as equipment, so another 50% off; we gain a 75% economy of scale on transportation.

Labor is an interesting point: Alcor points out that their labor rates are generally 2-3 times less than you'd expect mainstream, and they use a lot of volunteers. It appears that the Cryonics Institute also has a large volunteer staff. Unless society radically changes, a reliance on volunteer labor is probably not a fair assumption as things scale up. However, we actually get the most powerful economies of scale here, because we're no longer looking at 48-80 hours of standby per person. You'll need a sufficient staff to handle catastrophes quickly (plane crashes, etc.), and thus some degree of standby is still essential for prompt responses. If we reduce standby from 48 hours down to 2 hours, then multiplying costs by 3 to bring pay up to market rates, we get a total savings of 87.5%!

Based on the summarized charges, it looks like the charges break down as approximately:
Transportation: $9,000
Equipment: $4,000
Labor: $15,000

Which, with these new adjustments:
Equipment (50% of original cost): $2,000
Transportation (25% of original cost): $2,250
Labor (12.5% of original cost): $1,875

That gives us a net total of $6,125, before maintenance fees are taken in to account.

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METHOD 2

Alternately, we could extrapolate economies of scale based on observed data. The UK has centralized health care and spends $3,000 per capita on health care. The US is decentralized, and spends $7,500 per capita. So we have reason to assume that medical costs specifically can be cut down to 40% simply based on economies of scale.

Another approximation often used for hospitals is that there is a 10% increase in hospital productivity per doubling in size. Alcor currently has 100 patients. Scaling up to 150,000 is ~17 doublings or, being generous, a tripling of productivity, so cutting costs to ~33%. The two figures are reasonably close, so we'll go with the more favourable 33%.

Given an adjusted grand total of $18,908.76 (this excludes the remote charges and nursing fees), and taking only 33% of the cost yields about $6K. Once again, this figure ignores maintenance fees.

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FINAL COSTS

Either way you do the math (and I'm quite welcome to being told I've been vastly pessimistic, if there's some supporting evidence I've missed in my searches), the final cost per person for cryonics is probably around $6K for the suspension.

Storage costs are another matter, and we will simply assume that storage is magically free, as I am attempting to be optimistic, and storage is probably going to realize the greatest economies of scale. It is worth noting that storage is only approximately 25% of the current expense! Alcor requires an additional $6600 fund and uses the interest from that to pay maintenance costs. CI cites maintenance costs that are 50% higher ($100 vs $66), and thus would presumably require a $10,000 fund. This is against an expense of $18K and $28K for each respective organization.

We thus have a final figure of $6K per person.

If you still think this is an overly pessimistic figure, keep in mind that the current market rate is $80,000 via Alcor, and Alcor's discussion of costs(http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/CostOfCryonics.html) explains a lot of why this is a really quite expensive service. The Cryonics Institute(http://www.cryonics.org/comparisons.html#Prices) charges $88,000 for a complete package (suspension, standby, and transport). Our $6,000 per person figure is a 90% savings due to economies of scale - which, except for the noted quirk of labor charges, is an exceedingly optimistic economy of scale for any enterprise to aim for!

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CONCLUSIONS

The fundamental point here is that economies of scale only take us so far: We still need to pay professionals to do their job, we still need a vast amount amount of equipment and supplies to actually perform the operation, and we still want to attempt vitrification as soon after death as possible. While the actual storage of a human body might come cheaply (I have seen figures of $100/year for CI's whole-body option, and $66/year for Alcor's neuro-only option), even if we discount this to free, we are only managing a 25% savings; as Alcor's numbers demonstrate, storage is a relatively trivial if you assume an investment fund with a mere 2% return. Even the space requirements are modest; maybe 4 buildings the size of the empire state building each year.

The true expense of cryonics is getting someone vitrified, and doing it in a timely manner.

At present, approximately 150,000 people die per day, or 54,750,000 per year. At our optimistic rates of $6K per person, we are looking at a sum expense of $328,500,000,000 ($328 billion). This is approximately half of the US defense budget ($663.8 billion) and approximately 0.56% of the world GDP (58.26 Trillion)

In an ideal, rationalist world, is this a viable figure? Certainly.

In our actual world, with our actual politics, does this even vaguely approach a rational goal to shoot for today? It seems unlikely.

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[1] http://cryonics.org/cryostats.html - About halfway down the page; the search term "Prior to getting the bulk liquid nitrogen" will locate the relevant paragraph.

All other sources are marked via in-line links

Comments (37)

Comment author: James_Miller 26 May 2011 03:15:11AM 24 points [-]

There would be considerable medical cost savings from people who have brain wasting diseases such as Alzheimer's being vitrified before they would normally die.

Comment author: advancedatheist 29 May 2011 03:21:51PM 1 point [-]

I would go for that myself. Alzheimer's has shown up in my family medical history now (namely, my father), so I have to take that into consideration for my personal plans.

I define the goal of cryonics as turning death from a permanent off-state into a temporary off-state. I think it defeats the purpose of cryonics for cryonicists under current conditions to try to live as long as possible before their suspensions. We still don't have ways to protect the aging brain; rising health care costs could easily wipe you out financially; and you could wind up in a situation where someone hostile to cryonics has to assume power of attorney for you and will keep you from getting suspended any way, despite a lifetime of cryonics advocacy, as happened to Marce Johnson. No, better to enter the off-state a decade before any of that happens, and hope that future medicine can figure out how to reverse you from it.

Comment author: mikedarwin 29 July 2011 07:38:30AM 13 points [-]

I found this a fascinating and amusing exercise. The 1990 Alcor article, "The Cost of Cryonics" and the accompanying tabular breakdown of the actual marginal costs that was used, in part, to generate the scenario above, were done by me in 1989-1990. [And you will note they have not been repeated since ;-0] If you look closely at that article you’ll also note that there is a disclaimer at the start which says, “these opinions are mine and do not represent those of Alcor…” That was there because the management was not happy with my projections, and instead backed those of Ralph Whelan http://www.alcor.org/cryonics/cryonics9310.pdf. If you go to page 10 of Ralph’s article you’ll see the projected growth rate for Alcor. The article also contains projections for “post-start-up” economies of scale. If you actually take the trouble to look at where Alcor is today, versus the “anticipated” numbers in that article, you’ll see that just about every assumption made was wrong. A short while ago, Brian Wowk tersely informed me during a phone call that my projections, if adjusted for inflation, constitute the actual current rate at which Alcor charges for cryopreservation services. I’m not sure if this is true, or not, because I haven’t bothered to re-run those numbers.

What is interesting in looking over the discussion here on Less Wrong is that all these various cost estimates don’t take into account the social and political context in which they are supposed to operate. Cryonics is very expensive if it is practiced as a high technology endeavor aimed at minimizing the extent to which it is (reasonably) technologically practical, damage from ischemia and from cryopreservation. And that was in the absence of skilled professionals who are vulnerable to malpractice judgments doing the procedures. When my estimates were done in the late 1980s, reasonably skilled, but non-professional people, were available to minister to cryonics patients. Any global scale-up of cryonics would have to factor in not only professionals’ fees and associated costs (licensing, regulation, litigation, etc.), but also the complex infrastructure required to implement such a technology on a widespread basis.

If you do that by, for instance, looking at the cost to provide EMS services to people in the US or the UK, you will find it is staggeringly expensive, and that far from there being economies of scale, the costs rise, dramatically. If you posit making Universal Cryonics a reality at a high level of technology, then you can easily bound the cost by simply using the existing medical system as your model. How much does it cost to respond to and to and transport a patient in cardiac arrest to a hospital ED? Add to that say, ~ $5,000 for ischemia-reperfusion medications and for en-route cooling. Then, figure out how much a typical Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG) costs today and add to that ~ $25,000 for cryoprotectants, associated IP licensing, and for extended use of the OR for CPA perfusion. From there, you can try to figure cool-down costs. If you like, you can just plug in existing numbers for cool-down. What you’ll find if you do this is that cryonics will cost about $170,000 to $250,000 for the up-front part of the procedure. And that is being very, very conservative and assuming that automation can be used to pinch hit for expensive human labor.

The only place where there is a reasonable possibility for economies of scale is in storage. Mostly, those economies of scale have already been reached by Alcor and CI for the type of storage they are using. In other words, if you want further economies of scale you have to build BIG, because the only way you get more efficient is by exploiting the reduction in heat leak that is to be had by decreasing the surface to volume ratio of your cryogenic storage system. That can most efficiently be done by building very large spherical storage vessels. Of course, practical considerations will kick in at some point and, unless you want to build gigantic storage vessels that you just pitch patients into like cord wood, you’ll need a way to access individual patients at will. This requirement greatly constrains the simplicity of the engineering it is possible to use, and thus increases the costs. Still, I would guess that you might halve existing neuro storage costs.

Finally, once you have a society that takes cryonics seriously, not only are they going to start suing for bad care, they are going to want protections to be present against sudden, undetected cardiac arrest and against myriad other contingencies that could frustrate cryopreservation andthat will also increase cost. Finally, they are going to want protection against existential risks to cryopreserved patients. Consider the situation today with nuclear power plants. These energy generating pieces of infrastructure are very dangerous if mishandled, sabotaged or subjected to fire, earthquake, flooding, or any of a number of other man-made or natural calamities. As a consequence, these plants are subject to very costly uber-engineering AND REGULATION. And even with such costly precautions, they are still sadly vulnerable, as recent experience attests.

Completely leaving aside the issue of how securely people will want to store their cryopreserved relatives, there can be little doubt about how securely they will want to store themselves once they are in a vulnerable and indeed completely helpless state. That means a level of engineering that is at least comparable to, or better than that currently employed in nuclear power installations. And there will be pragmatic limits on economies of scale because few sane people would buy off on the idea of 4 or 5 mega-regional storage facilities for the whole planet, or even for the whole of the US.

The take home message is simple. Barring absolutely “Singularity-style” improvements in technology and wealth, cryonics is going to not only remain an expensive proposition; it is going to get a lot more expensive. For a mature “universal cryonics procedure” in the framework of existing/foreseeable technology, my guess would be that the cost would be between $500,000 and $750,000 per person in the West, and perhaps half of that in the Developing World – but with a lot more risk (no hardened storage facilities, more risk of unattended death, and so on).

If you pull cryonics out of the context of a “universal, mainstream operation,” then costs could be very different. – Mike Darwin

Comment author: lsparrish 01 August 2011 06:47:36AM *  6 points [-]

I am skeptical of this analysis for several reasons:

  1. For better or worse, skilled personnel providing the service would be protected from malpractice to some degree by the very nature of the procedure. It's simply too hard to prove that harm occurred by all possible future standards. Even if malpractice is a possibility, the penalties would tend to be lower.
  2. The $25,000 for cryoprotectant sounds unrealistic unless there are no competing firms producing comparable cryoprotectants. That Alcor pays this at present seems to be a result of the fact that M22 is produced and consumed on a very small scale. Nonetheless, an insanely high profit margin for companies developing less toxic cryoprotectants could be a very good thing for cryonics quality. Cryoprotectant toxicity is an incredibly important area to develop for the purpose of not only cryonics but also for organ preservation and the advent of true suspended animation.
  3. Responding rapidly to cardiac arrest is something we pay for already with the existing health care system in developed countries that have EMS. If cryonics provides motive to extend EMS infrastructure to undeveloped countries, that is useful for other reasons -- it would save lives in the ordinary sense of the term. It should not be considered an additional expense of cryonics except in situations where EMS would not be deployed.
  4. A society that takes cryonics seriously would feel very differently regarding assisted "suicide". It would be something encouraged (and voluntarily pre-arranged) for situations when the brain and personality is seriously threatened. This would result in extraordinary savings not only by eliminating the need for emergency response and standby for cryonics, but coincidentally by reducing the burden (which is intense both financially and psychologically) in terms of caretaking. Not to mention that the patient would actually possibly survive.
  5. Monolithic domes are cheap to construct, and well suited for cold storage warehouses. This is not the same thing as cryogenic warehouses; the engineering requirements are more stringent, but their use as a cold storage room at -135C does not seem implausible. The first of such cryogenic warehouses to be constructed would be more expensive than the last due to development requirements for a robust cryogenic storage system. I do agree it would realistically be kept to a smaller scale than national or continental -- municipal seems reasonable. The warehouses would need to have an automated pack-and-place mechanism for easy storage and retrieval, which could be maintained externally. Patients would be stored in crates which can be added in through the top and moved into place by an automated crane. Retrieval of specific patients would require that all crates stored on top or in front of them would need to be moved, but should be feasible if necessary. Other kinds of cryogenic goods could be stored in the same warehouse temporarily in similar crates until enough patients are accumulated for it to pay for itself.
  6. Large scale facilities would cost less because they do not need to be kept at liquid nitrogen boiling temperature, only at the glass transition temperature. The heat sink effect of the large amount of thermal mass comprising the structure and other patients would prevent it from fluctuating without the necessity of LN2 boiloff. Patients would also benefit from this in terms of reduced or eliminated cracking effects.
  7. The only energy (heat) source in the plant would be the crane. There could however be explosive potential depending on how the building was kept cool. If there is an LN2 pipeline or tank involved, that would be something that needs to be engineered very carefully. This is potentially an argument in favor of (multiple redundant) electric coolers. On the plus side, cryogenic engineering is a fairly mature field and LN2 storage is commonplace at hospitals. I don't think the required level of precautionary spending would be nuclear plant levels.
  8. Monolithic domes are extremely stable against tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Additional earthquake proofing could be added below ground to help ensure that patients are not jostled too much, as is done for hospitals, but my guess is we're talking a few million dollars for tens of thousands of patients if not better.
  9. You mention halving the neuro storage cost. But logically you are either saying that storage costs would go to half across the board, or that full-body costs go to half that of a neuro. If neuro is 1/7th of full body, this implies that the cost is 1/14th, which is pretty significant.
  10. Whether we like it or not, the wealthy, to maintain their place in the status hierarchy, would tend to spend dramatically more than the publicly-funded or middle class, just as is the case with medicine today. Spending several million on a cryopreservation with a tiny chance of working better is not a big deal for a billionaire, any more than buying a private jet would be. To some degree this subsidizes the infrastructure and research for the less privileged classes.

Finally, it bears emphasis that even if you're right and the costs do tend to rise dramatically from the causes you are suggesting, most of them imply much better cryonics. The worst cryonics then would be better than the best cryonics today. Furthermore they would naturally evolve into a suspended animation style cryonics as soon as reversible suspension is developed, ensuring that hardly anyone "dies" of aging, cancer, etc. once that milestone is achieved. As it stands, if true suspended animation were discovered tomorrow, cultural (and financial/organizational) inertia would keep most people who could benefit from signing up for it for decades to come. Thus in terms of cost per unit value delivered, I would still maintain that universal cryonics scales very well.

Comment author: handoflixue 08 August 2011 07:02:36PM 4 points [-]

Thank you for the very insightful response!

The main trade off, I think, is whether we view cryonics as a medical procedure or a universal human right. Your numbers seem spot-on if we're trying to prevent every single death, and pessimistically assuming that cryopreservation must be done immediately after death.

If instead this is simply a medical procedure for those that can be saved (such as current treatments for heart attacks - rushed to a hospital, but without any special standby), or something that people routinely volunteer for when their health is failing, then you'll be eliminating a large chunk of those costs.

Equally, if vitrification is shown to be effective even a few hours after death, then much of the expense from urgency disappears.

It's also worth noting, as Isparrish pointed out, cryonics can simply move money around that's already being spent - a heart attack patient is going to be rushed to a hospital regardless of whether or not cryonics is an option. Maybe people will be less blase about death thanks to the prospect of immortality, but right now people risk death due to heart attack, smoking, and a myriad of other ostensibly preventable causes. On the other hand, if they're less blase, they're probably also willing to spend more on it :)

Comment author: jimrandomh 26 May 2011 11:34:08AM 11 points [-]

Overall, I think you've overestimated the cost of society-scale cryopreservation by at least a factor of 2, for a couple reasons.

You're multiplying by the number of deaths worldwide, but using United States prices. If cryonics were adopted in poorer countries, their per-person costs would be much lower, in dollar terms.

Also, if cryonics really were universal, to the extent that every major hospital had a cryonics ward, then in most cases there's no reason for transportation to have any incremental cost at all; transportation to the hospital was already required for the attempted life-saving treatment. While occasional out-of-hospital deaths will require transportation to a cryonics center, these will be much less expensive than ambulances because they do not require as rapid a response time as cardiac events do, nor as well trained a crew.

I'm not sure how you come up with only a 50% discount in equipment cost, given that we're talking about a switch from non-mass-produced to mass-produced equipment. Liquid nitrogen can't get much cheaper, but that's because it's already produced at large scale for other applications; the expensive parts are currently expensive because they're custom.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 May 2011 07:16:31PM 1 point [-]

Quoting the Alcor article from my post:

"An attempt was made to get round-the-clock nursing staff at a cost of $37.50 per hour (market rate), so that someone duly authorized by the State of California would be available to pronounce legal death, allowing the suspension to start without the 20 to 40 minute delay that would have occurred while the on-call hospice nurse drove over to pronounce legal death."

This suggests to me that, at least with current techniques, response time is actually quite important. While about 50% of the population dies already in a hospital, and another chunk has 911 called only to be pronounced dead, there is also a sizable portion of the population which dies quietly at home. It is that last category which would still require a fair amount of expense.

If there's new developments that allow cryonic suspension to start hours or even days after death without issue, then transportation expenses can probably be eliminated. At that point you can probably also discount labor another 50%, since you wouldn't need to ensure 24/7 staffing, and a backlog wouldn't be a horrific situation. However, until that development occurs, transportation seems to actually be one of the most critical and expensive issues facing modern cryonics. Both Alcor and CI charge rather heavily for that transportation / standby service.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 May 2011 03:09:44AM *  28 points [-]

Upvoted, but I can't begin to imagine how you take your data to be an argument that cryonics is too costly. 0.5% of planetary GDP to be a post-death society?

Also, a society which actually embraced cryonics would save huge amounts on horribly painful and expensive medical treatments that have no hope of saving the patient but only keep them alive for another month on a ventilator. There's no way that a society which actually understood cryonics would be spending more money on healthcare, net, than we do.

Comment author: gwern 26 May 2011 03:39:22PM *  13 points [-]

0.5% of planetary GDP to be a post-death society?

You're not post-death until you can both revive them and stop them from dying again (which will cost a lot more than just 0.5%). If all you do is revive them to be normal living humans again, then per the Gompertz curve, you buy very few years until something that hits the brain results in effective information-death.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 May 2011 03:31:55AM 10 points [-]

I can't begin to imagine how you take your data to be an argument that cryonics is too costly.

It's not too costly for me, but I strongly suspect it is too costly for politicians, bureaucrats, and the "average man" given the current level of evidence. I also strongly suspect we are quite some way away from reaching the level of evidence that would require; although I dearly hope that some day we actually can manage a post-death society.

Comment author: lsparrish 26 May 2011 05:19:43AM *  32 points [-]

Traditional funerals in the US cost an average of around $7,000. So if we're talking about substituting this, it does not seem like it would increase the total burden on the economy, at least in countries where this is already being paid for on a routine basis.

ETA: Here is the most official looking source I could find with google for the cost of a funeral. A metal casket is apparently a large part of the cost.

Comment author: SilasBarta 26 May 2011 02:09:19PM 19 points [-]

Count me as suspicious of the idea that people would stop having funerals or some equivalent ritual if cryonics replaced "pulling the plug" -- at least if it became common. Though obviously this would displace the "body preparation" costs associated with a funeral.

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 May 2011 04:09:54PM *  7 points [-]

Which must surely be by far the bulk of the costs. With no body, all that's needed is for someone to hire a hall in which people can assemble and someone to officiate. The British Humanist Association do that for £180 tops.

Still, I've not been able to find any details online about any kind of post-cryopreservation ceremonies for loved ones - anyone know anything?

Comment author: SilasBarta 26 May 2011 06:37:59PM 3 points [-]

Which must surely be by far the bulk of the costs. With no body, all that's needed is for someone to hire a hall...

Good point, I had previously overestimated the relative share that's due to body preparation. (I had forgotten such costs would include the burial and probably the funeral march!)

Comment author: Mycroft65536 26 May 2011 05:05:20PM 1 point [-]

I doubt there are any traditions yet. There just haven't been enough people cryopreserved.

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 May 2011 09:22:25PM 2 points [-]

I'm looking for what people have actually done in the absence of such traditions.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 May 2011 07:29:04PM 2 points [-]

True, but you have to adjust that downwards based on how many people actually have a funeral. A quick peruse of Google suggests ~1/3rd of the US goes with cremation instead. That said, if we can get the cost of cryonics down to the cost of a funeral, I think it would indeed be a vastly easier sell to a lot of people :)

Comment author: jsalvatier 26 May 2011 05:02:33PM *  6 points [-]

Good topic. I encourage you to use word hyperlinks instead of urls as well as add the 'cryconics' tag to the post.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 26 May 2011 04:27:54PM *  4 points [-]

Alcor Costs as of 1990 (http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/CostOfCryonicsTables.txt) seems like a reasonably reliable source of information. ... gives a simple cost of $18,908.76 for neurosuspension (not whole body). Maintenance costs are given as $66.08 annually, which would require a $6600 investment to yield suitable interest. Call it $25K total.

You're using costs from 1990, but as far as I can tell, you didn't adjust for inflation?

This calculator says that $25K in 1990 equals $44K in 2011 when using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, or $65K using the medical costs index.

$65K is 2.6 times $25K, so going by the medical costs index, the $6000 per patient would correspond to about $16,000 in today's money.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 May 2011 06:57:44PM 0 points [-]

You are entirely correct about not adjusting for inflation. I seem to have left out the footnote explaining that this was intentional, as CI currently charges $28,000 for whole body, so it felt unfairly pessimistic to adjust that.

The calculators I did use suggested $6000 in 1990 would cost $9880.15 in 2010. (http://www.westegg.com/inflation/). $6K -> $16K seems unexpectedly steep to me, just based on life-time experiences, but I will definitely concede that either way, my numbers are intentionally overly-optimistic :)

Comment author: lsparrish 27 May 2011 12:28:54AM 0 points [-]

I'm kind of curious as to what a worst-case estimate would be. What is the maximum we should expect to pay per patient at a rate of 150,000 cryopreservations around the world?

Comment author: handoflixue 27 May 2011 08:02:25PM 4 points [-]

I'd say the most reasonable figure to use for that estimate would be current market rates. I can concoct scenarios where the price goes up, but none of them strike me as particularly plausible. And, of course, a hypothetical worst case will quickly wind up with "it's impossible to do cryopreservation on that scale."

For a more reasonable bad-case, I would assume that a prompt cryopreservation is essential, that the whole body must be preserved for revival to be possible, and that legal issues prevent any form of cryopreservation before a legally pronounced death. As such, it's essential to retain the current ridiculous amounts of standby labor that goes in to modern pricing - otherwise thousands of lives are lost any time the system gets flooded by a disaster, and anyone who dies outside an urban area is just plain out of luck.

Furthermore, Alcor and CI rely heavily on volunteer labor, often paid well below market rates. Let's assume that even though medical equipment is tightly regulated and has a lot of expenses related to testing and certification, there's still some economies of scale that cryopreservation benefits from. I'd say that even in a bad-case scenario, it's unlikely (but not impossible!) for this to offset the increased labor charges.

The current market rate for CI is $88K if you want standby and transportation services. Alcor charges $200K for the same service. Call it maybe $100K per person.

$100K * 150,000 people/day * 365 days/year = $5,475,000,000,000 (~5.5 trillion), or about 10% of the world GDP.

If we instead use Alcor's current market rate of $200K per person, you're looking at 20% of the world GDP instead.

Honestly, probably one of the worst-but-plausible cases is simply "cryopreservation continues to require legal declaration of death", since then you never reap the reduction in other medical expenses - if you can cryo-preserve the terminally ill and those who are wasting away, you get some huge societal reductions in medical costs to offset these expenses.

I'd also consider it likely that, no matter what, funeral costs will be vastly lower, which will probably save you a decent chunk of the cost of cryopreservation in wealthier countries. The US spent $15 billion on funerals, but I don't know how well this maps to the rest of the world. I think one could probably reasonably assume at least $100 billion in savings, as it's fairly cheap to throw a cryo-preservation party compared to a funeral or cremation. When you're looking at $5,500 billion, this is not a terribly significant savings, alas :)

Comment deleted 27 May 2011 10:55:17PM [-]
Comment author: Merkle 29 May 2011 05:29:39PM *  3 points [-]

Scenario Analysis using a Simple Econometric Model of Alcor Finances by Robert A. Freitas Jr., October 2010, provides the most recent discussion of Alcor finances.

It includes a discussion of total costs to cryopreserve members, and has references to previous estimates along with inflation adjustments.

To quote from the article: "This procedure yields: TE$2010 = ($76,520)ncryo + ($1,614)Nmemb + ($622.5)Ncryo with the square of the correlation coefficient (i.e., the coefficient of determination) R^2 = 0.77. In this formulation, each member costs Alcor $1,614/yr in base expenses [16] and each new (average) cryopreservation costs Alcor about $76,520, with both figures measured in constant 2010 dollars. The latter figure seems a bit high but is very roughly consistent with estimates made by Darwin in 1990 [5] of the total cost of a neuro ($48,010) or WB ($62,526) cryopreservation in constant 2010 dollars, especially considering that much less-expensive cryoprotectants were used in 1990 than the much pricier ones (e.g., M22) that are employed in 2010. (Whelan’s 1993 estimates [7] of $42,320 (neuro) and $53,325 (WB), as converted to 2010 dollars, are slightly lower than Darwin’s.)"

Where

TE$2010 = Real Total Expenses for 2010

ncryo = Number of patients (both neuro and whole body) in cryopreservation

Nmemb = Number of Alcor members

Patient care costs assume "a constant neuro/WB mix of 65%/35% in the present and future".

Further cost estimates and assumptions are available in the article.

The most obvious cost-reduction likely to occur with widespread adoption of cryonics would be the amortization of fixed costs over a larger number of cases. The use of standard medical facilities would also allow amortization of costs over a broader base. Scheduling cryopreservations in advance could further reduce costs.

Patients already in an operating room in an attempt to save their life using existing medical procedures could be cryopreserved less expensively because many of the needed resources would already be in place. If the open heart surgery goes badly, the team could roll straight into a cryopreservation.

However, it is also possible that cryopreservation costs could increase as more sophisticated methods are developed and used. In addition, Alcor has traditionally eschewed profits in an effort to keep cryonics affordable. More traditional medical institutions might adopt higher prices to enhance profitability.

Comment author: lsparrish 30 May 2011 05:47:48PM 0 points [-]

However, it is also possible that cryopreservation costs could increase as more sophisticated methods are developed and used. In addition, Alcor has traditionally eschewed profits in an effort to keep cryonics affordable. More traditional medical institutions might adopt higher prices to enhance profitability.

While higher prices might lead to lower adoption rates, there is the opposite possibility, that more sophisticated procedures would be trusted and recommended more by physicians. Also it seems plausible that a higher degree of profitability would lead to a better marketed product.

Comment author: Larifari 26 May 2011 10:01:04AM 2 points [-]

Going from 100 to 150,000 is not 17 doublings, but log(150000/100)/log(2), about 10.5

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 May 2011 04:18:21PM 2 points [-]

Why is that the figure used? 150,000 is the number of people who die every day - how is that relevant to the calculations in this article?

Comment author: handoflixue 26 May 2011 07:07:13PM 0 points [-]

Hmmm, you are entirely correct. I ran the numbers as log (150,000) / log (2), and got 17. This was on the assumption that Alcor probably doesn't handle more than a single patient in a day.

More conservatively, I should have probably assumed Alcor handles ~10/year (based on 2010 figures). At that point we get 0.025 per day, which is about 5 additional doublings. So it looks like a fairer number would have been 22 doublings, assuming that this rule holds true. Thus, my padding to triple was probably slightly pessimistic, given the assumptions I made.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 May 2011 02:32:25PM 0 points [-]

Which is fortunate because 17 increases by 10% would give us a total increase of just over 5x, but 10.5 increases by 10% give us a 2.7x increase, or (as in the article) a tripling if we're generous.

Either the two mistakes cancel each other out, or there's a typo, or some clever math trick I'm not aware of.

Comment author: Clippy 26 May 2011 05:08:52PM 1 point [-]

I can cryopreserve humans a lot more cheaply, but I can only do it if everyone signs up to do it at the same time.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 May 2011 11:23:50PM 0 points [-]

I have a few quibbles with some of your arguments. Admittedly, you're trying to do some really hard estimation here, so I can't be too critical. But anyway.

You say, in the first paragraph of Method 2:

"The UK has centralized health care and spends $3,000 per capita on health care. The US is decentralized, and spends $7,500 per capita. So we have reason to assume that medical costs specifically can be cut down to 40% simply based on economies of scale."

I don't think you can get that assumption from that at all. To start with, a lot of America's ridiculously expensive healthcare is a result of inefficient use of resources, and dodgy incentives, and such things. I'm also inclined to argue that government run monopolies are all inefficient, but to different extents, and so using them to estimate costs is highly questionable. Someone else more literate than I can probably say this better.

Also, the idea that doubling your size decreases costs by 10% is plausible, but dubious over 17 doublings.

Comment author: CronoDAS 27 May 2011 04:00:45AM *  2 points [-]

I'm also inclined to argue that government run monopolies are all inefficient, but to different extents, and so using them to estimate costs is highly questionable.

This is getting into politics, but...

There have been many empirical studies examining the efficiency of government bureaucracies versus business in a variety of areas, including refuse collection, electrical utilities, public transportation, water supply systems, and hospital administration. The findings have been mixed. Some studies of electric utilities have found that publicly owned ones were more efficient and charged lower prices than privately owned utilities. Several other studies found the opposite, and yet others found no significant differences. Studies of other services produced similar kinds of mixed results. Charles Goodsell is a professor of Public Administration and Public Affairs at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University who has spent much of his life studying bureaucracy. After examining these efficiency studies, he concluded: “In short, there is much evidence that is ambivalent. The assumption that business always does better than government is not upheld. … When you add up all these study results, the basis for the mantra that business is always better evaporates.”

Source.

Comment author: handoflixue 27 May 2011 07:41:17PM 0 points [-]

"a lot of America's ridiculously expensive healthcare is a result of inefficient use of resources, and dodgy incentives, and such things. "

Given Alcor is based in the US, and has to rent time and labor from the medical profession writ large, I'd suggest that overcoming those obstacles would indeed result in a fairly substantial savings for them. Alcor is small enough to suffer rather heavily from inefficient use of resources - they do maybe 10 vitrifications per year, but have to have the staff and supplies ready to go 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Also, the idea that doubling your size decreases costs by 10% is plausible, but dubious over 17 doublings.

I'd honestly conclude "insufficient information" here. The history of computers in the last few decades makes a mere tripling in productivity look excessively pessimistic. On the flip side of the coin, equipment and labor costs run in to hard limits. I can certainly see a 200% productivity increase being optimistic, but I can also see it being pessimistic. Since I don't know, it felt safest to just run the numbers as current research suggests, without adding new assumptions :)


That said, the best defense I can give for those numbers is that I was trying to be optimistic, because my starting assumption is that there's no way you're going to finance universal cryonics in today's political climate. I didn't want to throw myself up against an easy version of the problem :)

Comment author: advancedatheist 29 May 2011 03:38:01PM 2 points [-]

Recently Alcor has started to rely more on a veterinarian to do the surgery. She charges less money than the MD surgeon they've often used.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 May 2011 02:35:16PM 0 points [-]

Is storage really as easy as that? It seems like investing money with no risk or work involved can't beat inflation in the long run, and therefore you'd need to keep spending money over time. I might be misunderstanding how inflation works, though.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 May 2011 04:34:33PM 5 points [-]

It seems like investing money with no risk or work involved can't beat inflation in the long run, and therefore you'd need to keep spending money over time.

No, capital really does produce value. Or, at least, it enables others to try to make money while you collect rent.

Comment author: lsparrish 26 May 2011 04:28:24PM 2 points [-]

I believe the strategy for eliminating risk from the equation in the long term is to diversify, so one investment failing does not cause the entire pool to be lost. Overall a diversified fund that invests in real capital should generate real compound interest over the rate of inflation.

Comment author: handoflixue 26 May 2011 07:23:38PM 0 points [-]

In addition to what others pointed out, storage is also the area that scales best from economies of scale - a single huge facility will have significantly less external heat to contend with, due to a smaller surface area, and thus significantly cheaper costs.

In addition, real-estate costs themselves tend to drop due to economies of scale, and as you grow large enough you can probably set up large remote storage facilities well outside of urban areas, and simply have smaller facilities locally that do a "preserve and ship".

The funding Alcor does also produces twice as much interest as is required to beat inflation, so there's a good margin of error even if inflation rises.

There are certainly risks, but if you had the sort of social buy-in required to spend 0.5% of the world GDP on this sort of project, I think inflation would be the least of your concerns. Natural disasters, major warfare, and severe economic collapses are much more likely to be risks, and unfortunately those are not trivial to mitigate.