Friday, 1 October 2010

The Singularity Is Bullshit Part 3

Its interesting that no-one (not even its enthusiasts) can really agree on what the nature of the Technological Singularity even is.
1. We know it can't be because technology gets faster and faster because that simply insn't true - just a a few days researching at the libary shows that idea is largely marketing hype.
2. Nanotech is very much in its infancy and making bold claims about what it may or may not be capable of is more hype - some proposed ideas may not even be possible (Damn you laws of physics - the ultimate bubble burster)
3. We are going through a internet revolution but it still hasn't given us anything really new - just made doing certian things a lot faster and given idiots like me a platform to shout their crazy ideas which they would not have had before.
4. The idea that we can build a AI that is smarter than us which can then go on and build its upgrade and so on - well seems the most possible but we have been listening to the promise of AI for over 60 years and its still just around the corner...
5. Computing processing power does not double every 18 months but the number of transistors on a chip does double - Computer processing does not measure anything but speed of calculating something that is not intelligence thats just speed - there are some problems that can;t be solved by brute force calculations sometimes you just can;t build the software
6. Humans improving by incorporating technology - is again very long way off we can barely make replacement body parts let alone devices which are a improvement on what we are born with. Cochlear implants are a good example, contary to popular belief you don't "hear" you have to learn to interpret the signals which the cochlear implant gives - A lot of Deaf people remove them even if they get implanted at a young age - its a big mistake to think that a disability makes somebody less than a human and I think the same goes for hypothesised improved humans thinking they are more than human.
7. Intelligence explosion - Again this is subjective how do you measure intelligence? Is intelligence just being able to manipulate technology? Is Wayne Rooney a genius because he is a expert football player? When we have a definition of what intelligence is prehaps we can understand how it may be improved.
8. Humans get scanned into a computer - this is weird its just like thinking that humans have a soul and it can be digitalised (Neither of which I buy). Even if it was possible to make a prefect digital representation of you it would not be you, so why would you choose let your digital representation be you and live your life in virtual reality. Its like deciding that you want to die or hide inside your technology? That seems to be a very strange choice and in a way quite sad like giving up on existance.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Technological Singularity is Bullshit part 2

We are all familar with the futurist  concept  that  Technology is rushing faster and faster. To back up this claim futurists say things like - "the amount of information is doubling every few years and increasing at a far than has ever been previously imaginable" or "there are more scientists and technologists alive and working than in all the pervious history of civilisation" .

These are supposedly indisputable facts but if you are prepared to look up the history of technology you can eassily see that these statements are querstionable or even completly false!  We can't mistake the hectic pace of modern life  considering the amount of effort wasted or duplicated  as rapid change. 
You really have to look at technology in a different way and realise that the most reliable technologies are ancient and now more or less invisible. Think about the stuff you really use - Vaccines, Electricity, drinkwater, roads, houses, more food than you can eat and cheap warm clothing that protects you from the elements.
 Historically Technology seems to come along in leaps and bounds followed by long or short lulls as the technology matures and is more widely used.  Other factors like wars and social systemss can also really slow down technological progress. Why should we assume that the 20th century and early 21st century have been more special than previous " technological singularitys" for example the Renasiance and the industrial revoution? When you look in history there are many "explosions"  of technology in all parts of the world often followed by periods of statis. The Islamic golden age  in mediaval time's also moved pretty fast only to be followed by long decline.

In fact it could be argued that technology slowed down during the entire course of the 20th century and the period 1850-1900 was probably a hell of a lot faster than now. To explain what i mean  Cars  and telephones only became common in 1920's,  Radios and commercial airflight  in the 1930's -  Refridgerators in the 1940's TV's 1950's , Rockets in the 1960's,  Microwaves in the 70's and home computers in the 1980's. All these inventions had been around for a a long while before they got acceptance and were widely used.  I would argue that most innovations since then have only been refinements in existing technoligys they enable us to do things more quickly, precisely or in a gltzy way - BUT not differently. Before you bring up the internet - THINK the internet is just computers attached to the pre-existing phone/telegraph network. THIS was done back in the 50's  for airline companys and then developed by the milarty in the 60's and it took until the 90's before it was widley used.
Some technologies have actually slipped backwards - we fly at the same speed as people in the 1950's supersonic commercial airtravel is now virtually non-existant. Lasers are another great example - invented in 1958 - moved extremely rapidly in the 60's, 70's and 80's and very slow since only one or two notable innovations in the last 20 years.

Computers are supposed to be bringing about rapid change but are they - take a look from a historical point of view the only thing that has really progressed fast is microchip design, software and other bottlenecks have slowed progress down and again I would argue that in a sense hasn;t progressed much since the 1970's. The only real innovation was to link up home computers on the web but as we have already stated that was done before it just wasn;t widely used.

I will finish my idea of the singularity with  a warning - If we as the younger generation are supposed to be inventing the singularity - we are doing a shit job - to spend time philosophising about what may happen instead of innovating we are more likely to regress than progress.  If anything we are the fat contented children of the industrial revolution and we can no way compare our innovations to be on par with inventors of the 1800-1900.  Our best innovation of recent years was space travel and then we got too scared to be pioneers and use it properly - and instead seem to be regressing into a state of techno-dependancy and being suckled like baby's by the technological acheivments of the past. Its even got to the stage when our prophets are telling us that in a few years it will all be over and soon it won;t matter.

That my freinds is BULLS,, i mean BILLLYCOCK - fuck the singularity its a dream -  we should be concentrating on reality..
(Steps off soap box)


Saturday, 4 September 2010

Cryonics UK

CRYONICS UK is a  bullshit non-profit self help group "organisation" set in place to provide assistance as necessary to those within the UK who wish for their body to be cryopreserved upon death. They basically pump you full of antifreeze and pack you in dry ice beofore flying you off to your " cryonics service provider" in the states. They charge from £15 a month to join their gay little club and thankfully to the best of our knowledge they havent desecarted any corpse yet and are 100% inexperienced enthusiasts run by a charasmatic "organiser".

    A ticket to wasting around  £20 a month more like...

Its charitable status is rather dubious as it is basically a self help group run as a non-for-profit company. Non-for-profit companies are not obliged to publish their profits or earnings so it would be hard to find out what they really do with your money unless Graham Hipkiss keep his promise. One thing we do know is that potentially considerable % of  membership money is being invested in the salarys of the organisers and for promotional purposes. Organiser David Styles is often jetting about Europe and the USA promoting this self help group as a abulance service for the dead. Buyers Beware!
The Charity they list on the Cryonics-UK website is called:
Human Organ Preservation Research Trust or HOPRT however there is no home-page or any real information on the internet about this very important sounding charity to be found anywhere? The reason we suspect is that this "charity" is just a bank account used by this "self-help" group to launder membership fees and distrubute money among the directors and for equipment which may look like it works to the layperson.

More skeptical Inormation about Cryonics UK can also be found on The Gaurdians Website who visited the company with Mike Darwin (US Cryonicist):
He was not impressed with what he found and we quote here: "If I had that kit here, I'd be scared shitless. Shitless. There are some critical things wrong with the setup of that circuit." He tells the team they have made so many mistakes the patient would have suffered irreversible brain damage by now. Darwin suggests technology has regressed since he was in his cryonic prime 20 years ago.

David Styles is the current organiser of Cryonics UK. David’s original academic background is in linguistics,but he is now (apparently) pursuing further degree studies in mathematics. None of his professional qualifications are in biology or even cryogenics (engineering at cold tempretures). On His blog he claims to be a "UK-based life-extensionist, immortalist, cryonicist and Transhumanist". He is very active in PR for Cryonics UK and is often jetting around world promoting this company to the transhumanist/cryonics community he has even been on UK Daytime Television. His mantra. "We're living on a planet with six billion suicidal maniacs."
David Has a facebook page here: David Styles and his blog is here: feel free to keep an eye on him as we are!

NEW Imaginary video of interview with David Styles made by Jill.

Also Our Rather Lurid Webpage exposing the scams

And of course Cryonics UK where you can see for yourself

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The most important man of the 20th century that you probably havent heard of

All this recent hysteria about cloned cows and stuff in the news got me to thinking about the greatest man who ever lived. You have probably never heard of him but Norman Borlaug has done more for science and technology than anyone ever alive. His thinking and achievements make other advances like the "theory of relativity" look like cheap parlour games. He helped make former starving 3rd world countrys like Mexico, China and India into major players on the world stage. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and worked in the former USSR bringing them up to speed and helped out Africa a lot before he was prevented from doing so.
This man should be a house hold name like Bill Gates but he is not  and often his work is questioned and banned outright with no scientific merit - have you guessed why?

(From Wikipedia)
Norman Ernest Borlaug (March 25, 1914 – September 12, 2009)[1] was an American agronomist, humanitarian, and Nobel laureate who has been called "the father of the Green Revolution".[2] Borlaug was one of only six people to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.[3] He was also a recipient of the Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian honor.

Borlaug received his Ph.D. in plant pathology and genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He took up an agricultural research position in Mexico, where he developed semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties.

During the mid-20th century, Borlaug led the introduction of these high-yielding varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, greatly improving the food security in those nations. These collective increases in yield have been labeled the Green Revolution, and Borlaug is often credited with saving over a billion people worldwide from starvation. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 in recognition of his contributions to world peace through increasing food supply.

Later in his life, he helped apply these methods of increasing food production to Asia and Africa. (end quote)

No Lightweight by any stretch!

The Truth is Norman Borlaug has saved at least 1 BILLION lives with genetically modified foods and his advanced faming techniques. He knew that with classical organic farming techniques the world can only support 4 Billion people. So he worked his ass off developing stuff so me and You can say we don't want to eat it! We are at population almost 7 billion and if Norman's work is completed theres food for 10 billion. Fuck me if it wasn't for this guys vision the world we live in today would be a very different place with a lot more hunger and sufferring. The stupid thing is that before his death in 2009 he was often stopped from doing his good work by enviromental agencies. In 2002 one african country refused Aid (condemming millions to death) just because it was from GM crop's - thats pretty fucked by any standards and the pressure groups involved should hang their heads in shame.

Of his critics the great man said: "some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things"

At the end of the day i think that feeding people (everybody in the world that is) is more improtant than being faddy about where it came from. I cannot see with my rudimentry understanding of genetics that eating a clone, whether from Wheat or Bovine is going to cause problems for the eater. I sometimes wonder if all this extensive testing by scientists is just to appease the animal rights activists and conservationists. Scientists never get full black and white answers to these problems they normally just have more questions at the end so fuck all these pointless testing for a start.

Instead of blocking cloning and GM foods we should be spreading that technology to the parts of the world that still need it. When every poor mofo in the world has enough in their bowl maybe we can start the debate but until then organic enthusiasts and greenpeace need to get the fuck out of it and do something usefull. Also for that Matter we should use the anniversary of the Late Dr Borlaug's to remember the greatest man who ever lived not condemn his work with Bullshit pesudo-science promotion.

On the 12th of September Raise a Glass and Toast the Man who fed the world and brought technology and freedom to the starving.

The Borlaug (my cocktail recipe)

1 part Wheat vodka
1 part RICE WINE (Sake)
1 part Tequila
2 Parts Ginger Beer (get spicy jamacian ginger beer if you can)

Shake well serve over crushed ice with Lime wedges

Del Boy Umbrella is optional!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Future is Getting Old

Recently at a family occasion my 84 year old grandmother had a little moan about the future, she said that when she was a girl (in the 1940’s)she imagined that the years 2010 was going to be space stations and robots. She did not think she would still be living on the same plot of land in the countryside and she certainly didn’t think she wouldn;t have a robot servant to help her with the problems of being old. To her the year 2010 is a big disappointment and apart from mobile telephones and computers the world hasn’t really changed much in her eyes.
So I spoke to my mother and asked her what she thought the world in 2010 was going to be like when she was a young girl in the 1960’s. She also rather surprisingly said – “yeah I figured that there would be a lot more Space travel and Robots”. Again apart from Mobile Phones and the Internet the world isn’t much different to when she was growing up. Skipping my generation (who also dreamed of robots and space in 2010) I asked my 12 year old neice what she thought the world would be like in 2050 say – and guess what she said, yes Robots and space stations will be normal by the time she’s nanny’s age!
Its not that the ladies in my family lack any imagination, the idea that we will all be living in space with robot servants has been a favoured prediction since the Victorian age with each generation believing that the next will make it possible. However as each generation tackles the problem - Space has shown itself to be prohibitively expensive and friendly helpful robots are still virtually impossible to build.
One of my favourite predictions about the future was from a man of senior years who drinks in my pub (I guess he’s about 80) He said there are two things about predicting the future that you shouldn’t forget: the first is barring any big wars 70% of the building you see will still be here in 100 years time and people will still be using them for their intended purpose. He then added that no matter what year it is we will still have to put our trousers on one leg at a time. 
The future is a exciting unknown world where anything can happen - but if you are realistic about it even in 100 years things will still be largely recognisable as today. I can imagine the world of 2110 will still not have robots, cheap space travel and flying cars - The changes will be largely invisible and probably based on tried and tested late 20th/early 21st century technologies which are then robust enough to trust.
Be wary of futuristic predictions that seem like their will be massive upheaval and change in the basics elements of human life – they are the most unlikely (what are called Wildcards in the futurology trade). No matter what comes with it -  we will always need houses to live in, clothes to wear and food to eat.  Bob Seidensticker: former Microsoft employee writes in his book  FutureHype,  how Technology is no inevitable neither is it exponential . If anything most modern technology is in fact invisible and the stuff we use is tried and tested Gas Light Era technology from the Industrial Revolution.  Technology isn't just about computers, its also about Food, Transport, communications, Water, Buildings and  Medicines. If anything Technology doesn’t even move as fast as it did in Victorian times and apart from the Digital Computer most technology is barely moving forward at all. Even our advanced Computer network tech (the internet) is just a very advanced form of telecommunications  and yes even in 1845 you could play virtual games over the telegraph!

LINK: (the Future that never was - other dreams of the past)

The Technological Singularity is Bullshit Part 1

Ever since fire was invented 2 million years ago, people have worshipped man’s inventions this is called Technophilia. Imagine what it was like on the African Savannah all those years ago when one of our ancient ancestors worked out how to harness the flame! All of a sudden people had something to scare away the most threatening predators in the dead of the night. It was probably the case that until fire was tamed that the weakest and youngest disappeared in the night but not anymore as a big fire now kept the tigers at bay. Not only that our ancestors could preserve foods by smoking, they could cook meats that were maybe inedible before and all sorts of other benefits from spear sharpening to cleaning wounds with ash. It is no suprise to me that these ancient people worshipped fire, it could be argued that without fire no technological progress is possible at all. Thanks to these now extinct hominids harnessing this energy our line of great apes has conquered the world. Later this led to making metals and machines till we get to the point of technology where we are today, its a humbling thought that none of this would be possible without taming the flame. Fire-worshipping is probably the oldest religion we have in the human world, it precedes even our line of humans (homo sapiens), possibly even predating languagues and culture. I would argue that until people started sitting around the fire there was probably not much in the way of cultural exchange which is needed to have a human society.
Today Technophilia is alive and well and it is my argument that todays over-enthusiasm for technology is just the updated form of fire-worship. Today’s technophiliacs call themselves Transhumanists or Singularitarians and have amassed a range of prophets and scriptures which even predicts a christsian like rapture! These people belive that through technology we will better the human race, live indefinite lifespans, banish aging, achieve immortality and cure all sorts of other human problems. They belive that sometime in the near future there will be a “singularity” of technology and some kind of super artificial intelligence will come into being.
Vernor Vinge (cutting edge sci fi writer) is credited with coming up with this first – he wrote that in the next few years a superintelligent AI system will be built and shortly afterwards the human era will have ended.

What is this supposed to mean exactly, are computers becoming so fast and powerful that very soon all humans will become useless compared to them? Well partly yes and partly no – the good thing is that Vinge and co see us merging with technology and becoming more than just our biology. The dream of the singularity which I can see is that soon augmented humanity with the aid of a super-AI will be moving so fast (in progress) that to attempt to predict where that may end up is meaningless. Imagine a very clever AI builds a better computer,this computer builds a even better one till you get to the point of machines which may seem almost god-like in their capabilities. After a while it gets to the point when their is no rational way to work out the capabilities or goals of these powerful machines and we have approached a technological singularity.
The idea of the singularity is borrowed from Mathmatics and Astronomy. In astronomy the singularity is the point of no return in a blackhole where normal physics no longer apply and the gravity is so strong not even light can escape. Nobody knows what happens inside a singularity the normal rules of physics break down and its not possible to work out what may happen inside them. More estoric theories about black-hole singularities say that they could be gateways to other universes or even the point where new universes are “budded” off in the multiverse.
So it is reasonable to apply this “singularity” when you look at technological progress? Is that what the future is some kind of “blackhole”? This idea has come in my opinion from some rather badly thought out diagrams which are mainly based on the computer side of technology. Normally they are based around Moores Law which stipulates that computing power will double every 18 months. This has undoubtedly held true for a number of years and looks like it will be ongoing for quite some in the near future, Ray Kurzweil predicts that computers will be so fast by around the year 2029 that they will surpass human capabilities in almost every field by this time. The question I ask myself when i here this statement is: just because you get faster processing does that mean computers are going to be more intelligent?
I was born in the year 1977, by this time the computer revolution was really gaining some momentum. However being born when computers were already old-hat has given me a completely different perspective on them. I see computers as YES/NO machines: they can either do things or they say no and crash or reboot.
Don’t get me wrong I love my computer, it helps me with my writing abilitys (without i am completely dyslesic and can barely write a sentence), I make my silly techno music on it and as a communications device its second to none. But I don’t see it anymore than a YES/NO machine it is incapable of doing anything unless i tell it too. In fact when you really think about it it has only incorporated a lot of other machines in software form and is pretty dumb without a human operator. Most people I know only use computers to check their social networking websites, a bit of banking or ebaying and of course a bit of hardcore porn!
Ray Kurzweil is about 40 years older than me and he has seen computers go from very expensive whole room installations to hand held devices which are already a billion times faster than his old academic machines. This gives him a longer term perspective and as he has already witnessed a billion fold increase in computing power its easy for him to assume that this will be ongoing. I have heard him make the analogy in one of his public talks that today’s mobile phones are more powerful than the computers used in the Apollo Space program. While this may be true in terms of computing power, there is no way you can get a I-phone app that can successfully fly a rocket to the moon and back.
I will give you another example, recently Supercomputing has become available to desktop users. For about five thousand pounds you can buy a Nvidia Tesla card and have a machine which can support up to 180 Gig of ram and you can have supercomputing capabilities in your house. But what would the average person really do with all that computing power – are they going to be able to make a Evil Artificial Intelligence and take over the world? Unlikely most people would still use the Tesla to do the normal stuff they do on the web – I was rather surprised to find out that these machines just run normal operating systems like Windows.
It appears to me that the average user has already reached a point when much more computing power isn’t going to make much difference. Generally most people are happy to use low-powered netbooks to do what they need to do on the web. In Japan the average user mainly use their smartphones to do most web stuff and only use a desktop PC when they can’t do what they need to on their phones. I think this is a trend thats likely to continue, People want things that are easy to use and they can carry around easily. The idea that the general computer user is going to want to start writing powerful programs on super PC’s is rather unrealistic.
Another massive flaw with that theory is that programmes/software is so difficult to write. Even as we make more processing power software is still moving at a very slow rate in comparison. Theres a saying in silicon valley - "what Intel giveth, microsoft take away" whic is why PC's still lake few minutes to boot up despite having processors 1,000's of times faster than a 1990 PC (which also takes a few minutes to boot up). Processing power doent mean a thing if the software can't be written to utilise it and software project faliures are much more common than you might think. Sometimes no matter how skilled the programming team is they can't find the solution - AI is a clasic example of this.

So I find the idea of a singularity due to Moores law as a rather archaic theory which doesn;t really take into account the average human user or software development for that matter.

Other parts of the singularity theory seem to be based on the work of Nicholai Kardeshev who made some interesting graphs based on energy comsumption to predict the likelyhood of alien civilisations. A level 1 civilisation would be able to harness all the energy perhaps of its home planet – this may include technology like space elevator technology, weather control and perhaps large orbital solar collectors. A level 2 civilisation would be able to harness all the output of their local star – this may include technology like star encompassing dyson spheres, a lot of space traffic between planets and colonised star systems. In fiction the Star Trek Federation would by a type 2 civilisation. Then we go on to a Type 3 civilisation which would be able to harness the whole energy of a galaxy – technology may include galactic engineering, black hole farming and the ability to blow up planets perhaps. A fantastic example of this would be something like Darth Vader’s Empire in the Star wars trilogy. A rather humbling thought is that humanity is only about 0.75 on the Kardeshev Scale and it would only take a huge solar flare (which a stage 1 civ wouldn't even worry about)to knock us back to pre-industrial technical capabilitys (0.2 on the scale).
In my mind a singularity culture like the one that Vinge/Kurzweil envision is going to be like Kardeshev’s type 3 civilisation. If we have computers with so-called godlike capabilities then a little bit of galactic engineering is not going to be a problem for them. If we are only at 0.75 of the scale in the year 2010 how long will it take to get to level 3 one million years perhaps?

More posts about the improbability of the Singularity to come....

Death in the 21st Century - The Con Of Cryonic Preservation

One of the things that has become more common in the last century is the removal of death in society and some would say a rising fear of our own mortality. We used to be really familiar with death and it wasn’t something to fear.
Up until relatively recently death was a big family occasion that everybody was encouraged to take part in. You would try your best to try and go back to the home you were born in when you felt your time was near. People would come and visit you on your “deathbed” to try and get your last words and even the youngest children were encouraged to come and say goodbye. When you did finally die you were dressed in your Sunday best and moved to the front parlour where you would receive further visits. Often (perhaps because people were so worried about being buried alive) you would reside in the family parlour for a number of days so everyone would get a chance to pay their respects to your corpse. After a big funeral which would take most of the day including a pissup you finally put into your family plot with your ancestors.
Different countries of course had different rituals and ways of going about it but in essence this was pretty universal concept in American/European culture till the turn of the 20th century. During this time a few ladies magazines wrote articles about how the display of dead bodies in the front parlour was deemed unsightly. They suggested that they should be out of site and encouraged their readers to redecorate their parlours and perhaps as an ultimate fuck you to the dead rename them the living room! The funeral home was born shortly afterwards and coffin builders went from wooden boxes in open yards to today’s ultra modern coffin showrooms.
It could be argued that as a result of all these things we as a society have removed ourselves from the death process. Instead of being something we would deal with in an open basis it has gone behind closed doors and become enshrouded with secrecy. Nobody wants to know what happens to them when they die and the whole process of dying is something we now dread. Most people imagine that they will die alone in a hospital bed with tubes hanging out of them with no-one to witness their last ragged breath. Then perhaps a few close members will come to whatever funeral home you signed up with say a few words and then it’s into the fire for a quick cremation. Is it any wonder that people are so afraid to die and are prepared to go to extreme measures and make huge expensive mistakes when they do?
The funeral industry these days is quite shameless in its handling of the dead. One of my favourite examples of this if from the Film the Big Labowski. When the surfer dude dies he is cremated and only the Hero and his dysfunctional Vietnam vet pal are at the cremation. The surfer dudes dream is to have his ashes scattered on the pacific and they are in the funeral home office trying to buy a “receptacle” to collect his ashes in. The Funeral sales guy is trying to sell them an urn but even the cheapest is way too expensive for our hero who feels he is being taken advantage of because he is bereaved. In the end they put the ashes in a fast food container for FREE and scatter his ashes’ as he wished. Very funny especially when the Vietnam Veteran gets narky but also very true about the business of death in this century. People are often ripped off pretty hard when they die and relatives can end up paying thousands for coffins and other paraphernalia.
One thing which is really expensive and very futuristic is the rise in the interest in cryogenic preservation. This is the idea of freezing yourself down after death in the hope that one day your death can be cured and you can live again in some future era. To be able to postpone your death and live in the future has long been a dream of humanity. The Egyptians built pyramids, alchemists mixed potions and even in recent history no less than Benjamin Franklin dreamed about it. In Victorian fiction Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein dead body parts are put back together and re-animated with disastrous results. Countless science fiction writers since have written about cryonics as a suspended animation technique for space travel or as a time travel device.
The premise is simple, freeze a person and revive them again in the future. This person can then enjoy any benefits which the future may bring, be it a cure for whatever deadly illness they may have or perhaps advance life-extension techniques which we don’t know about yet. On face value it sounds great doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was possible who wouldn’t want to get the chance to join Fry (from Futurism) in the year 3000 when robots and space aliens are the norm? It sounds like sci-fi doesn’t it and it probably should be sci fi. But there are already several companies offering this “service”, for around $150,000US they will pick you up from your death-bed. Then they will freeze you down using the best techniques and store you for as long as it takes to cure you of your death. These firms will have you believe that future advances in medical technology will be able to overcome any problems you may have now including of course your death. They say that it’s better to freeze yourself down on death than be buried or cremated as you have a chance of revival by their methods.
It’s something that maybe you can imagine a desperate person close to death may entertain as a possibility but this is not the case at all. Cryonic preservation is something that some people (and intelligent people too) think is very viable. In fact my co-organiser on all things futuristic believes that with current methods the chance of revival is 10-50%! He is no wacko either — an author of books, confident public speaker and has run high-technology companies. His understanding is that advances in nana-tech and genetics will cure him of any death he may suffer from. Not only that he will be given a more robust body (perhaps even a robot body) and some form of him will be able to live on. He is of course a keen Tranhumanist who believes that the technological singularity is going to be the key to this dream and I guess that where he gets his 10-50% chance from. I am a betting man myself, cards is my game and I can tell you: I don’t like to put my money down unless I got all the info I need. I think that cryonics is a very expensive gamble and your real odds on revival are the same as hitting all six numbers in the lottery. From the bookies (cryonicists) point of view it’s a perfect bet, the punter is a high-roller, unconcerned with the odds, needs no grantees and will be legally dead when he makes his bet. It would be easy to get a few oversized Dewar flasks, some antifreeze and some scientific looking promotional literature and make a fast buck undercutting cryonics firms before emigrating to the Caymans with the profits. I suppose it’s easy for me to be cynical and make fun of cryonics, I am still far from a old age, let alone considering any funeral arrangements. I suppose I find the whole subject rather grisly, sometimes it makes me quite angry and I want cryonics companies closed down as I feel they are taking advantage of vulnerabilities. Other times I wonder why I even waste my time thinking about a silly expensive burial and why should I even let it affect me.
The reason is that Cryonic Preservation is becoming more mainstream all the time. It’s recently enjoyed a few spotlights in the media even so far as Breakfast TV with Richard and Judy. We have UK cryonics firms and of course it’s something that the transhumanist community just loves as a potential stepping stone to their imagined future. Another development is the normalisation of cryonics preservation before just something the rich eccentric could afford — now companies offer life insurance premiums to cover the costs. Self-help groups are springing up around for users of these services one boasts how even a homeless person could afford cryonic preservation. I recently read an article on the less wrong website how a mother has signed up her kids and how “it tears her heart out” that other mother don’t do the same. Is this a good or bad thing? I believe that it a bad thing; in fact I would go as far as saying I think it’s a con-trick. The cryoncists don’t believe it’s a real con, they really believe that they are onto something big and feel it’s a good cause. But in my mind it does not make it less of a con just because people are blinded by beliefs, religions have started on less and cryonics cults are something we may have to learn to live with. The problem that I can see is simple — People do not want to be told that they only have 80 years to live, so cryonics is seen by some as a solution to this age old problem. Throw in the promise of a new body or anything really as you are speculating on hypothetical technologies of the future and you have something people will be prepared to pay for. The promise of everlasting life is something alchemists offered their rulers for centuries — there is virtually no difference in the 21st century except your stereotypical alchemist is now wearing a flashy suit, has some brilliant anti-freeze and calls himself a cryonicist. One of thing I need to make clear is that to the best of my knowledge all cryonics companies are run as not-for-profit firms. This just means they don’t pay tax and don’t have to publish their accounts like a normal company. They are not normally run by groups of scientists or doctors as you may think, but generally by enthusiasts who are self educated on the subject. Most companies don’t even have any doctors on the payroll let alone any cry-biologist’s — most nitrification is done by self-trained members and its best to think of them as more like self help groups rather than a professional organisation.
They (cryonics firms) bill themselves as some kind of private hospital preserving their patients for a future cure. The high fees are due to the expensive nature of storage for a potentially very long time. After freezing costs the diseased person’s money is put into a trust fund to pay for ongoing matainence for potentially a very long time. Cryo-preservation is not illegal it’s seen by the undertakers trade as exotic cemetery and they will happily organise it for you if it is your choice.
I strongly suspect as others do that a lot of people are making some serious money out of it. As these people are (IMO) not credible (i.e. getting paid to be cryonicists) you can’t really talk to them about it as they are effectively volcano insurance salesmen. Cryo-biologist’s, doctors and sensible scientists don’t really want to talk about it either. In fact it’s rather well known that cryo-biologists are NOT allowed to prostitute their skills to cryonics firms. Now in some ways this could be seen as draconian or in other ways rather pragmatic. Cryo-biologists are pretty damned cool — they have worked out ways to make human organs transportable for transplant and have even preserved rabbit kidneys and defrosted them and got them working. But guess what — they do not use tissue from dead animals (or cadavers) they use living tissue and then preserve it. Cryoncists are well aware of this but due to the rules you can’t do experimental cryonics on living humans. So what they sell you with no guarantees and make sure you sign away any rights to them. Cryonics companies will advise you to object to autopsy on religious grounds to ensure that they can start the freezing process quickly and that your body isn’t damaged by the coroner. That fact alone is dodgy enough let alone the rest of what happens to you. On pronouncement the stand-by team will put you in an ice-water bath and attach you to a heart-lung resuscitator. The reason they do this is to attempt protect the brain any further damage by heart and lung functions stopping. Then as the body is cooled intravenous lines are attached and various protective medicines are pumped into the body. These include free radical inhibitors, anti-coagulants and anaesthetics this is to maintain blood pressure and further attempt to preserve brain tissues.
If you’re in a hospital where they don’t allow cryonic procedures you are moved to an alternate location and cooling is maintained without interruption. You are then surgically attached to a portable heart-lung machine which takes over your own heart and lungs. Within minutes a heat exchanger in the heart lung machine reduces the body temperature to a few degrees above freezing. Blood is also replaced with an organ preservation solution very similar to procedures for organ shipment for transplants and then you are packed in dry ice for air shipment to Arizona. At the Alco facility a volunteer “surgeon” connects you by the heart and pumps you through with a solution which washes away any blood that is of course if you opted for whole body preservation. A lot of cryonics enthusiasts only want their heads frozen so they are quite literally decapitated (this time by a real surgeon) before being attached to the anti-freeze tan. Reputedly baseball legend Ted William’s head was mounted on a tin of tuna so to avoid skin tissue damage during the freezing process! Cryonics firms are keen to stress that they do not “freeze” you, due to the advanced anti-freeze they use it is more like Vitrification which turns organs more like glass than ice. However they still have to be very careful with handling and monitor the freezing process with specialist equipment to help avoid fracturing. While this is going on the temperature is cooled to -125 C with nitrogen. This process takes around 3 hours and hopefully at the end the body or head is vitrified (in a stable ice free state). Then you need further cooling to -196 C which takes about 2 weeks to do, then your put into your Dewar flask upside down for long term storage. The main here is that at no point are you handled by professional morticians or medical staff. The process of freezing has been cobbled together by keen amateurs and engineers not professional cryo-biologists. Cryonics companies are keen to stress that they are “self-help” groups who offer no guarantees — buyers beware. This self-help description of themselves should be the one that sends alarm bells ringing to any potential buyers of this process. Self-help groups are bullshit organisations which offer alternative therapies for a wide range of problems. Some offer to change your life by walking on fire others gives bad relationship advice and there are literally 1000’s of books you can buy. A friend of mine is in the Self-help business and considers himself a PUA (pick up artist), based on a book called “the game”. The idea is that for a fee PUA will train you unconfident, out of shape male into attracting the most beautiful women using their “system” and NLP techniques. These guys are quite happy to charge you up to £3000 for a weekend’s intensive training and promise to get you laid. These guys are running a great little con, they know that some men are really bad at talking to women and all they actually do is try and build up your confidence a little. They are not too professional that when they get a real loser they can’t help they use some of the £3k to get a couple of high class whores.
Alcor has had to go to court on a couple of occasions already — they are well documented on the internet — just do a search for Dora Kent and everybody’s favourite — ted Williams. There have been well documented cases of the failures even on Alcors website: But they don’t stop selling this even though they know that they have made big mistakes in the past. If that all happened in living memory imagine what’s going on at Alcor and other firms now. Only very recently an ex employee came out and wrote a book about his experiences at the firm. In this book is lots of documentation of the malpractice done at that firm. Unfortunately his book is copywrited material so it cannot be scanned and reposted — but you can pick it up cheap at Amazon. I did think it had been written by a disgruntled ex-employee with an axe to grind but he has at least provided evidence to support his claims. This is the problem with unregulated cryonics — human nature pretty much guarantees that somewhere along the line going to get conned. They should see what’s really in those Dewars and close those companies down. Again it’s not being an anti-cryonicist its just being against companies selling untested alternative therapies on dead body’s with no regulations. I would (as said before) be all for letting a cryo-biologist mess around with my dead tissue in the name of science. But giving a load of fanatics 100K is not my cup of tea and it should be banned till a proven science.