Day 099 - Staying around to see it

Submitted by Sam on 28 August, 2011 - 03:57

The future is a very exciting place. The exponential progression of technology points to a revolution that will not only improve living standards around the world, but reduce and then cure global poverty. Nanotechnology will provide clean drinking water where before there was none, enable targeted drug delivery and early-warning detection and defence against disease, and allow for the cheap and efficient manufacture of any product or material that can possibly be built, using only the most basic of raw materials. Life expectancy will grow as regenerative medicine matures, and human intelligence, creativity and memory will be enhanced far beyond their natural biological limits. These tantalizing glimpses into human (and post-human) potential are logical extensions of the trends we see today, but we cannot accurately predict when they will become manifest. We can, however, confidently predict that many millions of people will die of age-related illness before the longevity breakthrough extends human life indefinitely, that many millions will die of hunger and through inadequate sanitation before nanotechnology decontaminates water and brings agricultural crops to the desert, and that many, many millions will die of disease and accident before minds and memories can be uploaded from neural architecture to non-biological substrates.

But perhaps death today need not be as tragic and irreversibly final as it is. We have technology today that can preserve a body for the technologies of the future to revive. With the expectation that a future medical technology based on advanced nanotechnology will be able to restore health in all but the most extreme of cases, we can use the premise of cryonics to store bodies in liquid nitrogen, where they will be preserved without deterioration for centuries, awaiting revival from an as-yet unrealized medical technology. Cryopreservation is based on the idea that historically the medical definition of death has changed as our medicine has advanced, and that what might constitute death today may be within the capabilities of medical technology to revive tomorrow.

At present, only tissues and small organs have been reversibly cryopreserved, and the whole premise of human cryopreservation relies on the theoretical possibility that personality and memories encoded in brain structures will persist long enough after legal death to be preserved by the process. As molecular nanotechnology researcher Ralph Merkle has pointed out however, we can evaluate cryonics in only one of two ways: we can either sign-up, and die if it doesn't work and live if it does, or we can ignore it entirely and die regardless of whether the process works or not. Given that the cryopreservation procedure can only legally begin after the pronouncement of death, there seems to be nothing but money to lose in taking the cryopreservation gamble, and the chance to cheat death and experience an indescribably advanced future to be gained if it pays off.

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