Waking Up To The Future: The Cool World Of Cryogenic Stasis

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?

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    That's all well and good, but what about them there futurefolk that have to suffer with reawakening what is essentially a caveman by the standards of the day?
    As much as I'd like to partake in this, I see no benefit in it. We live, we die, we're overtaken.

    A defeatist attitude, to be sure. But I'm unsure as to the real benefits here outside of narcissism.

      I think the real benefit in freezing you is so we can push your personality way into the future sometime.

        Alternative motives for the same end. The future still needs to deal with the problems of the past(present).
        Apologies for the cynicism. It's pioneering stuff, for sure. I just see it as one of those grandiose plans laid out today, turning into a shitheap when it's time to wake up. We're at the pinnacle of tech today, and yes, it's only going to get better. But for the persons frozen? They're going to be stuck knowing only about rudimentary touchscreen tech and AMOLED screens.
        They'll be technologically backwards, and likely treated as such.

        I understand my argument is conflicted here, as the whole topic broaches on "pushing the envelope" yet here I am, saying there's no point. I'm confused by this too, don't worry.
        I just struggle to see the point in trying to find a shortcut to the future. I'm happy with where I am, and the tech I've got at my fingertips. I'm excited to see what is yet to come, in my lifetime.
        But I'd hate the thought of being a burden long beyond that.

          Rapid-learning systems (such as in the story "Profession") may have been developed in the meantime. In fact, you could make that a precondition of your revival.

            If the prerequisites to resuscitation permitted such things, consider me all for it. In fact, I'd be signing up ASAP if that were the case. I mean, anything's possible given enough time.

            How do you think the contractual obligations would handle that though? Assuming an initial outlay of $30,000, it's a pretty small investment for the end result. I'd be interested in seeing how that pans out, at the very least!

              We're not at the stage of drafting contracts yet, but we absolutely intend to allow all reasonable criteria.
              For example, you'll be able to say "I don't want to be woken up until fifty others have been resuscitated with no significant ill effects", or "Wait until there are structures in place to help me adapt to the changed society."
              $30,000 is the cheapest option available in the US, and doesn't include the cost of getting there. Once we're up and running, we expect to charge around $65,000, which is comparable to the total cost of a US-based suspension if you live in Australia.

    I guess I'd do it but only on if :

    1. some artifacts get packed with me so I have a nest egg that I can hock off in the future.
    2. a six pack of beer (say i get woken i n a thousand years time, i doubt coopers will be around).
    3. In the event I'm woken up what options exist on how to exist in a time where I know no one and i'm completely alone. What's the point being woken up only to go crazy and kill myself.

      21st Century Medicine actually has Budweiser stored in liquid nitrogen so cryonauts can have some of today's beer when they're revived.

    I'd love to live in a program forever, Tron-style. Biodigital jazz, man. Take it away, Jeff Bridges: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gr4wJSqQRy8

      I gotta say I'm enjoying your recent articles on Gizmodo. The dream one was great also.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if no one has been 'woken up' from this sort of stasis before, how do we know it works? It's all well and good to theorize, without results this doesn't mean anything.

      I think the idea is that we can now freeze people, and simply wait 'til the future "us" works it all out and manages to defrost us. If they're going to be as lazy as we are, we're gonna be cold for a looooooooooong time ;)

        Clearly you haven't seen Austin Powers. The process of defrosting has proven to be a pretty simply process :)

      I was honestly hoping for him to dispell that silly myth that "cryonics doesn't actually work at all." Umm...

      Love the idea, but want to see it work before laying down 30+ big ones.

      I guess the real question is, is there any cell rupture when you get frozen, surely the glycol doesn't stop all your cells from rupturing from the little ice daggers being formed in them.
      If they truely can freeze me in a way where there is no cell damage... Sign me up!

        The process is called "vitrification" and there's a great explanation of it here: http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/vitrification.html
        If you're serious about signing up, we'd love to have you on board.

          You forgot your evil laugh and to tell him a car is on the way

    I love the idea of this, but he's playing down the "bad press" of when an disreputable company suffered a power outage and the bodies spoiled.

    What I want to know is how far along we are in simple freezing, reawakening technology. Sure dead people are being frozen but as far as I know it could be 100 years before they manage to be revived

    Hasn't John Wayne already jumped on this here bandwagon?
    Or is that just one of those urban myths?

    This also seems relevant: http://youtu.be/5L8-FTvSVxs

      It's a shame Alex that this video only has 6.8m views. Queen should be part of the curriculum by now.

    Yes, but what about the soul?
    I'd love to have my consciousness dumped into an android but I just can't help the feeling that it would just be a copy. As for freezing, I think it would have the same issue. The person who wakes up may well just be a bunch of memories, but not you..!!

      What is this 'soul' you speak of?

      Sorry I'm just a layman but could you point me to some papers examining this 'soul', preferably backed with empirical evidence.

        Matthew, can you point me to some papers and evidence for consciousness? Right now your heart beats and your brain is active... can you tell me what is missing when your heart isn't beating and your brain is not active? Oh no one knows? Must not exist.

          Your awesome :3

        I wasn't making any kind of religious comment there. I do however think that the brain is just a computer and it needs an operator. Just my view but others have asked this question in the past. If no soul, then what! Are we just smart automatons?

          yup, just a self learning computer based on probability. won't be too long before silicone or crystal catches up.

      Ready he void trilogy by Peter F Hamilton, it is a great series that outlines the problem of the soul, if I am transferred, it only helps my loved ones, I will still be dead, but there will be a perfect replacement that they can interact with

    The thing that sticks in my mind is that if you're declared "legally dead" are you expecting humankind to develop the tech to be able to resurrect you? After all you're still just freezing a dead body.

    Hey this could be a zombie origin story. Cryo company discovers way to reanimate dead tissue, revives frozen bodies and BAM zombies!

      Somebody get Hollywood on the phone. I think their number has a 555 in it.

    Death is the Universe telling you your ride is over. The sooner we all stop trying to live forever the better. Some people are better off dead anyway. As if we don't have a population issue looming anyway. If you do choose cryovaccing yourself, use plenty of tin foil.

    Isn't the point of all this to have some of us available to be punished by our descendants?
    Thank you brave volunteers, boldly go and pay for all our sins with your unspeakable pain.

    If I had the money I'll do it, I got nothing to lose, I'll live this life time to my fullest ability and then I die, of cause when I awake I'll expect something great from the advancement of mankind,I suppose I'm wishing for world peace,no pain,no starving people, no cancer..... that's a mighty big ask,if our past and present is anything to go by...... but my main drive is just to see what's been happening for all those years that I have been dead......

    Big fan of this tech - I think it would be awesome to wake up and see the future, whatever it is... When a reputable Cryo-stasis company starts advertising in AU, I'm in... (when I die that is)

    I can point you to an excellent novel if you're interested - very thought provoking on the whole subject of waking up after being frozen - The writer has released his book onto the public domain:

    The First Immortal - by James L. Halperin - http://www.cryonicssociety.org/free_ebooks.html
    (also check out "The Truth Machine" - great read from same author)(also free to download)

    Another Resource - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcor_Life_Extension_Foundation

    Having said all that, I also feel that Cryonics is just the first step in what we need to learn to enable Human being to traverse the stars.

    The direction of current/future technology may enable us to 'back up' the brain (conscious?!Soul???) and download to a new cadaver/entity/device way before we ever successfully thaw and reanimate a human body.

    Future space travel may require our consciousness be backed up and stored, or even transmitted ahead, whilst 'seed' ships are sent to locations with equipment, growing cadavers along the way.

    Very sci-fi I know, but that's the exciting thing about the possibilities of the (our?) future...


    I am disabled and see cryonics as my ticket to the future. I am about to publish a book which looks at life extension and medicine as relevant to disability

    After you wake up from stasis, obviously you would be astonished by the advancement of technology since you first entered suspended animation, you would immediately feel the need to explore it. After a while, (a month-a few years) you would adapt to the technology of that time and live a normal, futuristic life. Referencing Futurama.

    Or, you could come in to, and out of stasis in phases, giving you the chance to catch up on technology, ultimately reducing the time that you need to get used to the technology advancements of the day & age of when you exit stasis.

    But then again, you could just stick around here and enjoy low-quality TV shows on Adult Swim and Prius hybrids.

    In future, this technology will be MUST for long distance Interstellar travel.

    Great, another guy out there who thinks he's got a PHD in this subject because he watched a movie...

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