[ExI] [ZS] [cryo] Nick Bostrom, Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong to be frozen after death

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Mon Jun 10 09:40:00 UTC 2013


Three senior Oxford University academics will pay to be deep frozen when they
die so they could one day be 'brought back to life'

Nick Bostrom, Anders Sandberg, Stuart Armstrong to be frozen after death

Two will just have heads frozen and one will have whole body preserved

The after-death procedure costs anything up to £50,000 By TOM LEONARD

PUBLISHED: 16:28 GMT, 9 June 2013 | UPDATED: 06:47 GMT, 10 June 2013

Stuart Armstrong, with his wife Miriam, and Anders Sandberg have signed up to
be frozen after their death

They were a shattered world’s last hope — three great minds from the past who
might be able to avert a catastrophe that threatened to extinguish mankind.

In a medical storage facility in the Arizona desert, digital screens that had
been dark for centuries suddenly flickered into life as the remains of three
beings stirred into life after aeons of slumber.

It’s difficult to say whether this sort of Hollywood sci-fi scenario ever
occurred to three Oxford University dons when they signed up to be frozen
after death. 

But what they cannot deny is that along with thousands of others they are
putting their faith in a future — known as cryonics — that is more science
fiction than science fact.

It was revealed yesterday that the trio — Nick Bostrom, professor of
philosophy at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, and his fellow lead
researchers, Anders Sandberg and Stuart Armstrong — have agreed to pay a U.S.
company anything up to £50,000 to have their remains frozen at death. The
hope is a future society will have the technology to restore them to life.

Armstrong has arranged for his entire body to be frozen by the Michigan-based
Cryonics Institute. His wife is expecting their first baby and he is so
enthused by the idea that he wants to sign the child up, too.

His two colleagues have opted for the less glamorous but cheaper and
supposedly more reliable option of having just their heads frozen when they
are declared dead, by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation outside Phoenix,
Arizona. Their heads will be perfused with a cocktail of antifreeze chemicals
and preserved in liquid nitrogen at -196c.

Professor of philosophy Nick Bostrom (right), and fellow researcher Anders
Sandberg (left) have signed up to pay an American company up to £50,000 to
have their heads stored in liquid nitrogen after death

Previous acolytes of cryonics have often been dismissed as head-in-the-clouds
cranks, sci-fi buffs who have watched too much TV or victims of vanity.

Britney Spears and Paris Hilton have both waxed lyrical about being frozen.
Simon Cowell is believed to be among several dozen Britons who have joined a
cryonics programme, although several hundred have reportedly shown interest.
But most of them are ordinary people — usually retirees who are thinking
about defeating death. The science may be sketchy but the principle is
simple: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

But Prof Bostrom and his colleagues are young, highly educated specialists
who have devoted their careers to humanity. If they are signing up for
cryonics, one might think, perhaps we should all pay attention.

Stuart Armstrong, a colleague at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI), part
of the prestigious Oxford Martin School, has opted to have his whole body

And while scientists generally dismiss cryonics for human beings, saying it
is far beyond our capabilities, it is interesting that Prof Bostrom has a
science background that includes physics and neuroscience.

The 40-year-old Swede is on Foreign Policy magazine’s list of 100 Global

His institute is part of the Oxford Martin School, where 300 academics tackle
issues such as population growth, inequality and climate change. It’s
encouraging that, in the midst of so much doom-mongering about the future, he
is keen to come back again.

‘Look back at what has happened over the past 100 years, and how many
features of today’s world somebody from 1913 would have failed to
anticipate,’ he told a newspaper. ‘The more uncertain you are about the
future, the more it makes sense to keep your options alive — for example, by
trying to preserve as much as possible of the information content in your
brain, rather than throwing it away.’

On his internet home page, Sandberg, 41, also Swedish, describes himself as
‘questing’ and ‘always very happy’.

He says it will be ‘very exciting’ to wake up in a new world. Admittedly, his
life would be limited as a disembodied head but, in the future, he predicts
people will be able to make ‘real connections’ to computers. He hopes his
memories and personality could be downloaded.

He and Bostrom may not even have to put up with living with just their heads:
some cryonics devotees insist future science will be able to clone human
bodies so the defrosted, severed head can be attached to a new body.

Their colleague, Stuart Armstrong, says it costs him £25 a month in premiums
to cover the cost of having his body cryopreserved — far cheaper, he says,
than the popular alternative of prolonging life, which is to join a gym.

Like his colleagues, he seems one of life’s optimists: ‘If you picture the
world in, say, 200 years, when reanimation is possible, it will probably be a
wonderful place.’

By the time they are rushed down to the liquid nitrogen tanks of Alcor, the
Oxford academics will be in illustrious company. Alcor has 117 patients
already in cryopreservation and 985 members waiting to join them.

Those already lying in state include Ted Williams, one of the greatest stars
of baseball, who died in 2002. And Dick Clair, a U.S. TV sitcom writer, has
been there since 1988 following his death from AIDS.

Prof Bostrom and Dr Sandberg have agreed to be frozen with the help of Alcor,
which is based near Phoenix, in Arizona

Williams became the focus of a family row over how he wanted his body
disposed of which focused on the authenticity of a note in which he
supposedly chose cryonics. It was later claimed that a technician at Alcor
took baseball-style swings at Williams’ severed head with a monkey wrench.

As for those still alive but already committed to Alcor, the list includes
film director Charles Matthau and British thinkers Aubrey de Grey and Max
More. Recognisable by a silver bracelet they usually wear to specify their
wishes to be frozen when they die, believers in Britain even have a support
group: Cryonics UK. Alan Sinclair, 75, a retired electronics expert from West
Sussex, has been a leading light in British cryonics since the mid-Eighties.

A few weeks ago his wife, Sylvia, became the first Briton to be properly
cryonically preserved. She died of lung cancer after an illness of just three
weeks, and was rushed to the Cryonics Institute in America.

With the possibility on his mind of a reunion with his beloved wife of 40
years, he tells me scientific progress has led British interest in cryonics
to ‘mushroom’ in the past five years.

But he says: ‘There wouldn’t be any point bringing back a 90-year-old.’

Who wouldn’t be interested in having a good few years added to their lives, I
observe. Isn’t the difference that most people want them now when their loved
ones are still with them?

Dr. Jerry Lemler, president and CEO of Alcor Life Extension Foundation,
stands in the Patient Care Bay area where the heads and bodies of 49
individuals are being held in cold storage suspension

‘I don’t see that as a problem,’ says Sinclair. ‘What happens when you leave
school and move to Australia. We move to completely alien environments all
the time.’

But will a future world want to bring back people who have opted to be

When Simon Cowell dropped his cryonics plan bombshell at a Downing Street
party, his host, Gordon Brown, reportedly pointed out he wasn’t sure if his
reanimation would be so popular.

Prof Bostrom is already a regular on TV and in the media. A future society
would doubtless be intrigued to know what an academic of his standing has to
say about its world. But what about an ex-housewife or former electrical

‘That’s the biggest problem,’ says Sinclair. ‘Why would anyone bring me
back?’ Cryonics patients won’t have much novelty value when there are
millions of them.

Indeed, the cryonics companies don’t really guarantee much. Success depends
on the body first getting to them in the U.S. as quickly as possible. 

And although their freezing fee — which varies between £16,500 and £125,000 —
is supposed to cover an indefinite period, who is to know the company will
stay in business?

It is a ‘leap of faith, but a leap of faith in science’, Sinclair insists.
‘Unless we want to go into oblivion, this is the only scientific means I know
of to avoid it.’

For people like him and his fellow death-defiers at Oxford, there can be no
possible concession to the idea that oblivion may be something to be

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