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A review of cryonics/brain preservation in 2016

21 Andy_McKenzie 31 December 2016 06:19PM

Relevance to Less Wrong: Whether you think it is for better or worse, users on LW are about 50,000x more likely to be signed up for cryonics than the average person

Disclaimer: I volunteer at the Brain Preservation Foundation, but I speak for myself in this post and I'm only writing about publicly available information.

In 2016, cryonics remains a fringe operation. When it is discussed in the news or on social media, many express surprise that cryonics is a "real thing" outside of science fiction. Many others who do know about cryonics tend to label it a pseudoscience. Brain preservation (BP) through non-conventional cryonics methods such as those using aldehyde fixation is even more fringe, with most people not aware of it, and others dismissing it because it uses "toxic" chemicals. 

Here's a rundown of some events important to cryonics/BP in 2016. 

Research progress

- The Brain Preservation Foundation prize was won in February by Robert McIntyre and Greg Fahy. Their winning technique uses glutaraldehyde fixation followed by glycerol cryoprotection (in addition to a step to improve blood-brain barrier permeability and several other components) and allows for the preservation of neural structure as verified by electron microscopy across the cortex. McIntyre has since started a company called Nectome in part to improve and refine this procedure.
- Aschwin de Wolf of Advanced Neural Biosciences announced in November at the CryoSuisse conference that Advanced Neural Biosciences has developed a method that reduces dehydration in rat brain vitrification by using "brain optimized cryoprotectants." There is no peer-reviewed data or more detailed procedure available as of yet, and viability of the tissue may be a concern. 

Legal progress

- In Canada, Keegan Macintosh and Carrie Wong are challenging the anti-cryonics laws in British Columbia
- A right-to-die law passed in Colorado. Although not directly relevant to cryonics, it increases the number of locations where it might be possible to start brain preservation procedures in a more controlled manner by taking advantage of physician-assisted suicide in a terminally ill patient. This has been described as "cryothanasia" and is controversial both within the cryonics community and outside of it. 
- As far as I know, cryonics and brain preservation remain illegal in France, China, and many other areas. 

Current Cryonics Organizations 

- Alcor
- Cryonics Institute 
- KrioRus. They are planning on moving to Tver, which is a few hours west of Moscow (see Bloomberg profile). 
- Oregon Cryonics. This year, they put a hold on allowing users to sign up through their member portal, with the organization pivoting towards research until they can focus on "some critical cryonics research" to validate their methods. OC was profiled by Vice in March
- TransTime. This small cryonics company in San Leandro is still active, and was profiled in a video in Fusion earlier this year
- Osiris. This is a new, for-profit company in Florida that has so far been controversial within the cryonics community, and was recently profiled in the Miami New Times.  
- There are other organizations that only do standby and/or cryoprotectant perfusion. 

Essays about cryonics

- Tim Urban's post at Wait But Why about cryonics has wonderful diagrams explaining concepts such as why many people consider death to be a process, not an event. Like most everything Urban writes, it went viral and is still being posted on social media.  
- Corey Pein's article at The Baffler focuses primarily on critiques of Alcor and in particular Max More. 
- In April, an essay by Rachel Nuwer at BBC considered what would happen if cryonics worked. 
- Neuroscientist Clive Coen critiqued cryonics in an essay at New Humanist in November. 
- In January, PZ Myers critiqued aldehyde stabilized cryopreservation as "wishful thinking" because it is not yet possible to upload the memories/behaviors of even a simple organism based on information extracted post-fixation. 

Cryonics in the news

- In April, a profile of Elaine Walker, who is signed up with Alcor, on CNBC led to a moderately large amount of press for cryonics. 
- In August, a profile of Steve Aoki in Rolling Stone, who is also signed up with Alcor, mentions his plan to do cryonics. 
- In November, by far the biggest news story of the year about cryonics (dominating almost all of the Google trends variance) was about a 14-year-old girl who wanted cryonics and who had to go to court to prevent her father from stopping it. The court allowed her to be cryopreserved following her legal death. This case and related issues were covered extensively in the Guardian and other British news outlets, sparking debate about cryonics generally in the UK. 

[Link] How computational approaches can contribute to brain preservation research

1 Andy_McKenzie 16 December 2016 06:56PM
Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 29 November 2016 06:39:47PM 2 points [-]

I think this is a good point, although I think that a Givewell-like site theoretically could compare charities in a particular domain in which outcomes aren't easily measurable. Just because things aren't easily measurable doesn't mean that they are unmeasurable.

Stand-up comedy as a way to improve rationality skills

5 Andy_McKenzie 27 November 2016 09:52PM

Epistemic status: Believed, but hard to know how much to adjust for opportunity costs 

I'm wondering whether stand-up comedy would be a good way to expand and test one's "rationality skills" and/or just general interaction skills. One thing I like about it is that you get immediate feedback: the audience either laughs at your joke, or they don't. 

Prominent existential risk researcher Nick Bostrom used to be a stand-up comedian

For my postgraduate work, I went to London, where I studied physics and neuroscience at King's College, and obtained a PhD from the London School of Economics. For a while I did a little bit stand-up comedy on the vibrant London pub and theatre circuit.

It was also mentioned at the London LW meetup in June 2011

Comedy as Anti-Compartmentalization - Another pet theory of mine. I was puzzled by the amount of atheist comedians out there, who people pay to see tell them that their religion is absurd. (Yes, Christian comedians exist too. Search YouTube. I dare you.) So my theory is that humour serves as a space where patterns and data from different fields are allowed to be superimposed on one another. Think of it as an anti-compartmentalization habit. Due to our brain design, compartmentalization is the default, so humour may be a hack to counter that. And we reward those who do it well with high status because it's valuable. Maybe we should have transhumanist/rationalist stand-up comedians? We sure have a lot of inconsistencies to point out.

Diego Caliero thinks that there would be good material to draw upon from the rationalist community.

Does anyone have any experience trying this and/or have thoughts on whether it would be useful? Also, does anyone in NYC want to try it out? 

Comment author: Elo 24 May 2016 11:06:15PM -1 points [-]

I am a little bothered by the scale you used - on a scale from 0-5 where:

0: no and don't want to sign up 1: no, still considering it. 2: no, would like to but can't afford it. etc. towards more interested in cryonics.

If we take an ordinary human who has barely even heard that cryonics is a real thing - the entry point to the scale is somewhere between 0 and 1 on the 6 point scale. Which means that as much as we have detailed data of states above 1; we don't have detailed data of states below 1. Which means that we potentially only recorded half the story; and with that; we have unrepresentative data that skews positively towards cryonics.

Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 25 May 2016 12:48:07AM 2 points [-]

Upvoted because this is a good critique. My rationale for using this scale is that I was less interested in absolute interest in cryonics and more in relative interest in cryonics between groups. The data and my code are publicly available, so if you are bothered by it, then you should do your own analysis.

Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 23 May 2016 01:31:00PM 8 points [-]

I used ingres's excellent LW 2016 survey data set to do some analyses on the extended LW community's interest in cryonics. Fair warning, the stats are pretty basic and descriptive. Here it is: http://www.brainpreservation.org/interest-in-cryonics-from-the-less-wrong-2016-survey/

Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 28 November 2015 08:03:38PM 1 point [-]

You didn't explain anything about the evolution of your thoughts related to cryonics/brain preservation in particular. Why is that?

In response to Genosets
Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 09 August 2015 11:32:21PM 0 points [-]

I'm a PhD student in genomics (read: argument to authority). Regulatory issues are definitely important and largely an impediment that should be removed, imo. That said, I think the larger issue is capturing and integrating good phenotypic and disease state data into datasets. Although there are large genomics data sets available, generally they have pretty sparse and poorly annotated phenotypic data. This is actually tied to other regulatory issues related to medicine. If you think this is important, please do consider getting involved in the area.

Comment author: Jan_Rzymkowski 06 August 2015 03:21:09PM 1 point [-]

Is there a foundation devoted to promotion of cryonics? If no, it would be probably very desirable to create such. Popularizing cryonics can save an incredible amout of existences and so, many people supporting cryonics would probably be willing to donate money to make some more organized promotion. Not to mention personal gains - the more popular cryonics would become, the lower the costs and better logistics.

If you are or know someone supporting cryonics and having experience/knowledge in non-profit organisations or professional promotion, please consider that.

Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 07 August 2015 09:42:02PM 2 points [-]

Yes. This is part of the mission of the Brain Preservation Foundation. The American Cryonics Society is also in this space, I believe.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 20 July 2015 07:20:00PM *  4 points [-]

You cannot use observed dependences in the data to suggest decision changes because p(y | x) is not in general equal to p(y | do(x)).

Comment author: Andy_McKenzie 20 July 2015 07:41:39PM 2 points [-]

What should cleonid do instead (if anything)? And even if something is not true in general, could it still be used as an approximation?

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