I've always thought as a hardcore technology addict that I was born in the wrong era. I was born in 1988, and based on the average life expectancy (assuming nothing goes awry before then), I'll live until the year 2067. Not a bad innings, but there's still so much awesome stuff I'll miss after I die, and that got me thinking. What if I didn't die? What if I could preserve myself and return when technology truly is amazing? Turns out I can. It's called cryonics, and it's here now.
Philip Rhoades is the executive officer of the Cryonics Association of Australiasia. He started out working as a biologist before moving into IT and he knows all about the science of suspended cryonic sleep.
Here's how it works:
When the person looking to be frozen has been declared legally dead, a team of cryonisists will work to get the heart and lungs working with a respirator and a pump so that blood can be moved around the body. Blood is gradually replaced with drugs like glycerol to prevent damage to the cells during the freezing process, before the patient is placed in a silicone oil bath cooled to almost -200 degrees celcius. The patient is then stored in liquid nitrogen at that temperature, essentially halting all cellular activity, for years.
The aim is to defrost and cure patients of whatever ailed them when the technology becomes available to do so, or when their explicit wishes instruct. Rhoades tells us that the wishes of each individual will depend on when people placed in cryogenic stasis are woken up.
"Some might say that they don't want to be woken up until the technology is completely safe, for example, or someone else might say I definitely want my old biological body back and fixed up, or just wake me up as soon as you can," Rhoades said, adding that some might not even want to be woken up in the real world at all.
He says that some people might prefer for their consciousness to be transferred into the body of a robot or into a computer program where they can live as a digital representation of themselves forever. That's if technology ever gets there, of course.
"If we actually get there," Rhoades says, "[people will likely use] a mixture of robots and [reversing the cryo procedure]. If you can revive or restore the original body and make it feel 25 again that's fine, but if you're so damaged that you're in a condition where you can't do something with it and you can just put someone in a virtual world or in a synthetic body then it's easier than sorting out the old body."
The biggest problems facing the cryonics community right now, Rhoades says, are a series of negative urban myths around cryogenics, and the risks presented by global instability.
"There's a lot of bad press from decades ago, and there's a feeling like [cryonics is] some sort of scam. It's not. These organisations are non-profits. Other…problems [include] the risk of global nuclear war or environmental collapse and things like that. Those problems mean that the exponential growth of science will be interrupted or even reversed."
Another urban myth is the expense required to get yourself frozen in time. Cryonics, Rhoades says, isn't just reserved for billionaires. It can set you back around $30,000 and it's often paid for out of people's life insurance policy.
Rhoades had planned to open his own family facility in 2005, but said that his own health issues and financial problems had stopped him from doing so. Now he's relying on Stasis Systems and the local facility it plans to open in the coming years.
Stasis Systems plans to open its facility in 2014, but until then, Philip Rhoades has his name down on the future occupants list for a US cryogenics facility.
Would you freeze yourself?