1 Bitcoin = $445
An Idea Expressed in Software
Ideas expressed in software have effect in the real world, and are not inert. They can spread like lightning, do not need explanation to have effect, and the force they exert in the affairs of man cannot be contained, explained away or lied about.
We are beginning to see this in the spread of end to end encryption in popular chat applications. but for a picture of how this will work as a permissionless money phenomena in Bitcoin, all you need to look at is software piracy.
No matter what these think tank people think about intellectual property (the state created fictional right) hundreds of billions of files are shared globally, and there is nothing that anyone from Yale or any institution in the anointed Intellectual Class can do to stop it.
They have not been able to do anything about file sharing since the advent of the modem and home computing, which is now in its 40th year. This is exactly what is going to happen with Bitcoin. – Beautyon
We’re Very Much Where the Internet Was in 1992
We’re in year seven. Bitcoin just had its seventh birthday on January 3rd. It spent the first three years in obscurity so you had really four years since it’s been known among the tech elite, maybe two years since it’s become a news item.
We’re very much where the Internet was in 1992. The question is if you asked me in 1992: “Why isn’t social media happening? Why isn’t China picking up the Internet? Why aren’t we seeing popular revolution starting based on this wonderful communication platform? You said it would bring freedom to the world. Where is it?” If you said that in 1992, you’d be right. It’s not there.
We are seeing little pockets of adoption. There’s some really exciting things happening in the Philippines, for example, with rebit.ph. There’s certainly a lot of attention in China and especially now with the yuan devaluing where bitcoin is being used as a safe haven / safety valve / flight from capital.
It’s still really early days. To ask why there’s no bitcoin in the Third World today is to ask why there was no Netflix on the Internet in 1994 or 95. – Andreas Antonopoulos
Ethereum market cap at a record high of $1.13 billion – about 1/6 of bitcoin’s $7 billion. – Jemima Kelly
PRIVACY / SECURITY / INTERNET
Quantum Computers vs. Cryptography
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) says that in a matter of 20 years, our current cryptography systems will be outdated and easily cracked by quantum computers.
This is a bit of a problem. As NIST mathematician Dustin Moody, who co-authored the report, notes, we need to start renovating the current cryptographic systems now, as it will take just as long (around 20 years) to get new algorithms selected, standardized, and implemented.
The world’s biggest computer companies have been focused on developing quantum computers for years. If developed, they would be millions of times faster than the supercomputers we have today (at least, in some regards). And recently, advancements in the quest to build one have been coming on amazingly fast.
The quantum computer D-wave is said to be a staggering 100 million times faster than a conventional PC. This month, IBM opened access to their new quantum processor to the public via IBM Cloud. And things are really just getting started.
As Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director at IBM Research, notes, “Quantum computing is becoming a reality and it will extend computation far beyond what is imaginable with today’s computers.”
While the advancements in quantum computing are, without a doubt, milestones technologically speaking, these advancements require just as huge a leap in security systems. As NIST notes, the two go hand-in-hand.
To that end, the NIST is now working on new approaches to encryption to ensure they keep up with the advent of this new age and can withstand the power of quantum computers.
They have started initiatives to get stakeholders for a collaborative effort in developing new cryptographic approaches, as well as competitions much like that held for developing the SHA-3 hash algorithm. – Futurism
New Milestone for U.S. Bull Market: 2nd Longest Ever
The S&P 500 is up 212% since March 2009, quickly surpassing the 20% rally needed to be technically considered a bull market.
The market upswing has became the second-longest in American history, surpassing the streak that spanned 1949 to 1956.
Stocks would have to avoid a bear market until 2021 to become the longest bull run ever. – Matt Egan
Nvidia Smashes Q1 Expectations On ‘Sweeping’ AI Adoption
Nvidia (NVDA) rocketed after the maker of graphics chips beat Q1 sales expectations and topped earnings views, led by faster adoption of artificial intelligence technology that utilizes Nvidia graphics chips.
CEO Jen-Hsun Huang credited accelerated growth of deep-learning, or AI, technology for the Q1 beat.
“Accelerating our growth is deep learning, a new computing model that uses the GPU’s (graphics processing unit) massive computing power to learn artificial intelligence algorithms,” he said in the company’s earnings release. “Its adoption is sweeping one industry after another, driving demand for our GPUs.”
Nvidia’s soon-to-be-released Pascal chip will continue that drive, he said.
“Our new Pascal GPU (graphics processing unit) architecture will give a giant boost to deep learning, gaming and VR (virtual reality),” he said. “Pascal processors are in full production and will be available later this month.” – Allison Gatlin
COMPANIES / PROJECTS / PRODUCTS
The DAO: Largest Crowdfund in History
The DAO, short for The Distributed Autonomous Organization, is an entirely new way of organizing investment.
30 years ago, the concept of being able to communicate instantly over video with anyone around the world was unimaginable. Today, the same can be said about fully autonomous corporations, without any leadership, management or employees, being able to drive a return on investment for their stakeholders.
The DAO is a set of smart contracts that define a venture capital fund, which is directed by DAO Token Holders. This is similar to holding shares in a public company, but the fund itself is stateless, existing in all computers running Ethereum, having neither a physical address nor a board of directors.
OpenBazaar Celebrates 100,000 Downloads
- High-level roadmap for OpenBazaar can be found here.
Founder and programmer Brian Hoffman told Bitcoin Magazine the platform has been downloaded 100,000 times. “Looking at what is available on the marketplace, it’s a very strange mix of products and services,” Hoffman said.
“We are seeing legal and illegal goods pop up. The legal goods are selling better than expected. One of the great things happening is people are buying from other countries where, in most cases, they tend not to do so on other platforms because it is too risky. There’s not a lot of trust there on existing marketplaces, which makes it harder to sell goods across borders.”
Customers on OpenBazaar are also excited about not paying fees.
Overall, “nothing crazy” has happened on the OpenBazaar network, according to Hoffman. The moderation process, one of the main features of the platform, has gone smoothly, with “moderators stepping up and helping to do refunds, and helping things along, which is pretty unique. I don’t think there’s another marketplace out there where people are crowdsourcing support. That’s where the community has come in,” Hoffman told Bitcoin Magazine.
OpenBazaar has three classes or “layers” of users: buyer, merchant ‒ just like in regular ecommerce platforms ‒ and also a moderator layer. Hoffman says the OB team has been surprised by buyer willingness to bypass the moderation layer.
“The realization we’ve come to is, a lot of people are more trusting than we assumed they’d be,” he said. “We designed the whole system so there would be a moderator to provide protection, but lots of people go to a store and they will try and find more about that storefront, then come back later and purchase directly.”
Despite all the emphasis on the ecommerce functions of OpenBazaar, the site in many ways operates like a social media platform.
“When we built the products, it seemed natural to have it wrap around the social media concept, because we knew that buyers and sellers were going to need to be engaging with each other to establish more trust,” Hoffman said. “They were going to need a chat function, and the moderator then also needs to be involved. There has to be this open discussion between all of them.”
“It’s a true marketplace,” Hoffman said. “When we designed it, we wanted it to be very social. I think that is an important part of the future. People are already using platforms to sell, like Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. We don’t want to build a social network, but we wanted to add the social features we think would be beneficial to the OB community.” The open-source project hopes to expand that in the future.
“We want people to engage with their brand,” Hoffman said. “So if we have a really popular store on OB, in the future we will be able to blast out updates to followers along with coupon codes and notices of who is following you. Things like that, we will expand as we go.”
OB intends to grow the community throughout the remainder of the year, turning now to OB1 ‒ the project’s own store on the platform, and the reason it earlier landed $1 million in venture capital. According to Hoffman, that project might offer additional services to the OB ecosystem, such as search functions. – Justin O’ Connell
Smartphone Device Can Detect Lung Cancer Early From a Single Breath
- Smartphone attachment. Single breath. More-accurate-than-CT-scan lung cancer detection. – Andrew McAfee
Lung cancer is the deadliest type of cancer in the United States, causing more deaths than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined, according to the World Health Organization.
“Part of the reason lung cancer is so deadly is that the current gold standard screening test — the low-dose CT scan — is wholly inadequate in a variety of ways,” said Graham Lieberman, an MBA student at the Harvard Business School.
CT scans cost about $800 for each scan, have a high false-positive rate, and expose patients to radiation that can increase their cancer risk.
Due to the risks and costs of CT scans, Lieberman added, only about 1.6 million of the 94 million Americans at risk for lung cancer — as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — are scanned each year. “A cheaper, safer screening device can be applied to a much larger percentage of that population,” he said.
The devices are an order of magnitude (about 10 times) more accurate than CT scans and can be made for less than $1. Astraeus will sell L CARDS directly to hospitals and clinics for use during routine annual checkups.
“We’re going after lung cancer”. “The root cause is bad screening: We’ve developed a better screening test, and it’s cost effective.” – Rob Matheson
European Commission’s Billion Euro Bet on Quantum Computing
A new €1 billion ($1.13 billion) project has been announced by the European Commission aimed at developing quantum technologies over the next 10 years and placing Europe at the forefront of “the second quantum revolution.”
Quantum computers have been hailed for their revolutionary potential in everything from space exploration to cancer treatment.
The Quantum Flagship announced will be similar in size, time scale and ambition as the EC’s other ongoing Flagship projects: the Graphene Flagship and the Human Brain Project. As well as quantum computers, the initiative will aim to address other aspects of quantum technologies, including quantum secure communication, quantum sensing and quantum simulation.
Since they were first theorized by the physicist Richard Feynman in 1982, quantum computers have promised to bring about a new era of ultra-powerful computing. One of the field’s pioneers, physicist David Deutsch, famously claimed that quantum computers hold the potential to solve problems that would take a classical computer longer than the age of the universe.
One of the main hopes of the initiative is that quantum technologies will make the leap from research labs to commercial and industrial applications. Matthias Troyer, a computational physics professor at the Institute for Theoretical Physics at ETH Zurich—one of the institutes set to benefit from the fund—believes the initiative acknowledges the fact that this step is now ready to be made.
“Quantum technologies have matured to the point where we are ready to transition from academic projects to the development of competitive commercial products that within the next decade will be able to perform tasks that classical devices are incapable of,” Troyer tells Newsweek.
This is a sentiment shared by Ilyas Khan, co-founder and CEO at Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC). Khan claims that the Quantum Flagship puts Europe at the front of the race to build the world’s first quantum machines.
CQC has been one of the pioneers in early quantum computer research and in 2015 developed the first operating system capable of accurately simulating a quantum processor. The t|ket> operating system allows research teams to determine the type of operations a quantum computer can perform.
“It has become increasingly clear that it is now only a matter of a relatively short time before quantum technologies become of practical importance at the strategic level for governments and large corporations,” Khan says. – Anthony Cuthbertson
Magic Leap: Virtual Reality is the Next Evolution of the Internet
- The world’s hottest startup isn’t located in Silicon Valley—it’s in suburban Florida. KEVIN KELLY explores what Magic Leap’s mind-bending technology tells us about the future of virtual reality: The Untold Story of Magic Leap .
It looks as real as the lamps and computer monitors around it. It’s not. I’m seeing all this through a synthetic-reality headset. Intellectually, I know this drone is an elaborate simulation, but as far as my eyes are concerned it’s really there, in that ordinary office.
It is a virtual object, but there is no evidence of pixels or digital artifacts in its three-dimensional fullness. If I reposition my head just so, I can get the virtual drone to line up in front of a bright office lamp and perceive that it is faintly transparent, but that hint does not impede the strong sense of it being present.
This, of course, is one of the great promises of artificial reality—either you get teleported to magical places or magical things get teleported to you. And in this prototype headset, created by the much speculated about, ultrasecretive company called Magic Leap, this alien drone certainly does seem to be transported to this office in Florida—and its reality is stronger than I thought possible.
To really understand what’s happening at Magic Leap, you need to also understand the tidal wave surging through the entire tech industry. All the major players—Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung—have whole groups dedicated to artificial reality, and they’re hiring more engineers daily. Facebook alone has over 400 people working on VR.
Then there are some 230 other companies, such as Meta, the Void, Atheer, Lytro, and 8i, working furiously on hardware and content for this new platform.
Even if you’ve never tried virtual reality, you probably possess a vivid expectation of what it will be like. It’s the Matrix, a reality of such convincing verisimilitude that you can’t tell if it’s fake. It will be the Metaverse in Neal Stephenson’s rollicking 1992 novel, Snow Crash, an urban reality so enticing that some people never leave it. It will be the Oasis in the 2011 best-selling story Ready Player One, a vast planet-scale virtual reality that is the center of school and work. – Kevin Kelly
VR App: Tilt Brush
I had an aha moment inside a VR app called Tilt Brush that was purchased by Google.
I was using a brush to paint with light in three dimensions. My traces in the air could be thin, thick, flickering, pulsating, solid sheets, of any color.
I was inside my creation, moving around with my whole body, working up a sweat. I was sketching a sculpture or sculpting a sketch or architecting a drawing or dancing up a building of light—I don’t know what to call it, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had in VR.
And it’s not just for fun. Trials at Google revealed Tilt Brush could be an ideal prototyping tool. In a few minutes, even an untrained person could sketch out a design for a car or the layout of furniture in an office, and you would instantly see it.
My aha was that at its root, VR is as much a creation tool as a consumption tool. As much fun as it was to explore VR, it was more fun to make it.
For a long time, no one believed amateurs would make their own videos, but that changed when you could easily film a scene by holding up a phone. VR is in line to reduce the barriers to creation even further.
Fame awaits the genius who figures out the elegant VR interface for VR creation. The tools would allow you to manipulate 3-D space with minimal gestures, voice, and gaze. You’d lift, twist, speak, and nod just so. I suspect there would be a beauty in watching a skilled creator work in VR, much like in watching a woodworker or dancer.
A universal interface for working in VR would unleash the greatest expression of creativity the planet has yet seen. – Kevin Kelly
Artificial-Reality Winners Will Become the Largest Companies in History
Not immediately, but within 15 years, the bulk of our work and play time will touch the virtual to some degree. Systems for delivering these shared virtual experiences will become the largest enterprises we have ever made.
The global technology industry—chip designers, consumer device makers, communication conglomerates, component manufacturers, content studios, software creators—will all struggle to handle the demands of this vast system as it blossoms.
And only a few companies will dominate the VR networks because, as is so common in networks, success is self-reinforcing. The bigger the virtual society becomes, the more attractive it is. And the more attractive, the bigger yet it becomes. These artificial-reality winners will become the largest companies in history, dwarfing the largest companies today by any measure.
Something certainly has just happened. A threshold has been crossed. After a long gestation, VR is good enough to improve quickly. It’s real. – Kevin Kelly
- The AI revolution is the most profound transformation human civilization will experience in all of history. – Ray Kurzweil
Rise of the Robots is Sparking an Investment Boom
- Global influx of machines set to open one of the hottest new markets in tech
An army of robots is on the move.
In warehouses, hospitals and retail stores, and on city streets, industrial parks and the footpaths of college campuses, the first representatives of this new invading force are starting to become apparent.
“The robots are among us,” says Steve Jurvetson, a Silicon Valley investor and a director at Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX companies, which have relied heavily on robotics.
A multitude of machines will follow, he says: “A lot of people are going to come in contact with robots in the next two to five years.”
The machines are starting to roll or walk out of the labs. In the process, they are about to tip off a financing boom as robotics — and artificial intelligence — becomes one of the hottest new markets in tech.
A boom is taking place in Asia, with Japan and China, which is in the early stages of retooling its manufacturing sector, accounting for 69 per cent of all robot spending.
“There is an exponential pace of improvement in hardware and machine learning algorithms,” says co-founder of Dispatch, a Silicon Valley company that is testing an autonomous delivery vehicle, Uriah Baalke. The result is a new class of machines that can operate by themselves in human space.
The technology advances behind this wave of innovation have come together remarkably quickly. Funding over the past five years by Darpa, the research arm of the US defence department, has brought breakthroughs in mechanical areas such as robotic limbs, says SRI International’s Mr Kothari.
But the biggest advances have come in software. Improvements in computer vision, for instance, have made possible many companies like Dispatch, whose machines rely on being able to “see” the world around them, says Chris Dixon, a partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
Machine learning algorithms, which are designed to adapt through an endless process of trial and error, play the biggest part in teaching robots how to navigate a world beyond the normal rules-based systems that computers are designed to handle.
“You won’t have to programmatically tell it what to do; it will figure it out,” says Vinod Khosla, a venture capitalist who has backed robot companies in markets including agriculture and healthcare. “Today, it’s really dumb intelligence — but that will change quickly.” – Richard Waters
Artificial Intelligence Better Than Humans at Cancer Detection
- Machines are now better than humans at detecting cancer both in pictures and in free text documents. What’s next? – Sprezzaturian
- And so it begins: convolutional nets built into ultrasound machine to help detect breast cancer (Samsung Medison unveils deep learning-based breast ultrasound imaging device) – Yann LeCun, Director of AI Research, Facebook
Researchers from the Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing say they’ve found that open-source machine learning tools are as good as — or better than — humans in extracting crucial meaning from free-text (unstructured) pathology reports and detecting cancer cases.
The computer tools are also faster and less resource-intensive.
“We think that its no longer necessary for humans to spend time reviewing text reports to determine if cancer is present or not,” said study senior author Shaun Grannis*, M.D., M.S., interim director of the Regenstrief Center of Biomedical Informatics.
“We have come to the point in time that technology can handle this. A human’s time is better spent helping other humans by providing them with better clinical care. Everything — physician practices, health care systems, health information exchanges, insurers, as well as public health departments — are awash in oceans of data. How can we hope to make sense of this deluge of data? Humans can’t do it — but computers can.”
“This is a major infrastructure advance — we have the technology, we have the data, we have the software from which we saw accurate, rapid review of vast amounts of data without human oversight or supervision.” – Kurzweil AI
Nvidia Bringing Artificial Intelligence to America’s Best Hospital
In order to advance healthcare by applying the latest artificial intelligence techniques to improve the detection, diagnosis, treatment and management of diseases, NVIDIA announced that it is a founding technology partner of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Clinical Data Science Center.
MGH — which conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, and is the top-ranked hospital on this year’s US News and World Report “Best Hospitals” list — recently established the MGH Clinical Data Science Center in Boston.
The center will train a deep neural network using Mass General’s vast stores of phenotypic, genetics and imaging data. The hospital has a database containing some 10 billion medical images.
To process this massive amount of data, the center will deploy the NVIDIA DGX-1 — a server designed for AI applications, launched recently at the GPU Technology Conference — and deep learning algorithms created by NVIDIA engineers and Mass General data scientists.
“Deep learning is revolutionizing a wide range of scientific fields,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO and co-founder, NVIDIA. “There could be no more important application of this new capability than improving patient care. This work will one day benefit millions of people by extending the capabilities of physicians with an incredibly powerful new tool.”
Using AI, physicians can compare a patient’s symptoms, tests and history with insight from a vast population of other patients. Initially, the MGH Clinical Data Science Center will focus on the fields of radiology and pathology — which are particularly rich in images and data — and then expand into genomics and electronic health records. – Nvidia
Living Longer: Entering the Biotech Era
Genetics, which is now called biotechnology is beginning to revolutionize clinical practice and will completely transform medicine within one to two decades.
We’re starting to reprogram the outdated software of life—the 23,000 little programs we have in our bodies, called genes. We’re programming them away from disease and away from aging.
For instance, at the Joslin Diabetes Center, they turned off the fat insulin receptor gene that tells you to hold on to every calorie in your fat cells.
That was a good idea 10,000 years ago when our genes evolved, because the next hunting season might not work out so well. But today it underlies an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We’d like to turn that gene off. They tried it in animal experiments. The animals ate ravenously but remained slim. They didn’t get diabetes. They didn’t get heart disease. They also lived 20 percent longer. And that’s just one example of 23,000 genes.
We’re involved with a company where we add a gene to people who are missing a gene that causes a terminal disease called pulmonary hypertension, and the treatment has actually worked in human trials. We can subtract genes. We can modify stem cells to have desirable effects such as rejuvenating the heart if it’s been damaged in a heart attack, which is true of half of all heart attack survivors.
The point is health care is now an information technology subject to the same laws of acceleration and progress we see with other technologies.
We’ll soon have the ability to rejuvenate all the body’s tissues and organs and develop drugs targeted specifically at the underlying metabolic process of a disease rather than taking a hit-or-miss approach. – Ray Kurzweil
Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) Supplements
A prominent theory of aging holds that decaying of mitochondria is a key driver of aging. While it’s not clear why our mitochondria fade as we age, evidence suggests that it leads to everything from heart failure to neurodegeneration.
Recent research suggests it may be possible to reverse mitochondrial decay with dietary supplements that increase cellular levels of a molecule called NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide).
Supplements containing nicotinamide riboside, or NR, a precursor to NAD that’s found in trace amounts in milk, might be able to boost NAD levels. In support of that idea, half a dozen Nobel laureates and other prominent scientists are working with two small companies offering NR supplements.
The NAD story took off toward the end of 2013 with a high-profile paper by Harvard’s David Sinclair and colleagues. Sinclair, recall, achieved fame in the mid-2000s for research on yeast and mice that suggested the red wine ingredient resveratrol mimics anti-aging effects of calorie restriction.
This time his lab made headlines by reporting that the mitochondria in muscles of elderly mice were restored to a youthful state after just a week of injections with NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide), a molecule that naturally occurs in cells and, like NR, boosts levels of NAD.
NMN isn’t available as a consumer product. But Sinclair’s report sparked excitement about NR, which was already on the market as a supplement called Niagen. Niagen’s maker, ChromaDex, a publicly traded Irvine, Calif., company, sells it to various retailers, which market it under their own brand names. In the wake of Sinclair’s paper, Niagen was hailed in the media as a potential blockbuster.
In early February, Elysium Health, a startup cofounded by Sinclair’s former mentor, MIT biologist Lenny Guarente, jumped into the NAD game by unveiling another supplement with NR. Dubbed Basis, it’s only offered online by the company.
Elysium is taking no chances when it comes to scientific credibility. Its website lists a dream team of advising scientists, including five Nobel laureates and other big names such as the Mayo Clinic’s Jim Kirkland, a leader in geroscience, and biotech pioneer Lee Hood. I can’t remember a startup with more stars in its firmament.
A few days later, ChromaDex reasserted its first-comer status in the NAD game by announcing that it had conducted a clinical trial demonstrating that “a single dose of NR resulted in statistically significant increases” in NAD in humans—the first evidence that supplements could really boost NAD levels in people.
How excited should we be about all this?
If I were a middle-aged mouse, I’d be ready to spend some of the nickels and dimes I’d dragged off the sidewalk to try NR supplements.
Even before Sinclair’s paper, researchers had shown in 2012 that when given doses of NR, mice on high-fat diets gained 60 percent less weight than they did on the same diets without NR. Further, none of the mice on NR showed signs of diabetes, and their energy levels improved. The scientists reportedly characterized NR’s effects on metabolism as “nothing short of astonishing.”
But the paucity of human data gives me pause. Nobel laureates notwithstanding, I plan to wait until more is known before jumping up from the supper table to run out for some NR. Besides, it probably won’t be long before more data come out given the growing buzz about NAD. – David Stipp
Pterostilbene is an Extra-Potent Version of Resveratrol
NAD boosters might work synergistically with supplements like resveratrol to help reinvigorate mitochondria and ward off diseases of aging.
Elysium is banking on this potential synergy—its NR-containing supplement includes a resveratrol-like substance called pterostilbene (pronounced tero-STILL-bean), which is found in blueberries and grapes.
Why pterostilbene instead of resveratrol?
While resveratrol has hogged the anti-aging spotlight over the past decade, unsung researchers have quietly shown that pterostilbene is a kind of extra-potent version of resveratrol.
The pterostilbene molecule is nearly identical to resveratrol’s except for a couple of differences that make it more “bioavailable” (animal studies indicate that about four times as much ingested pterostilbene gets into the bloodstream as resveratrol).
Test-tube and rodent studies also suggest that pterostilbene is more potent than resveratrol when it comes to improving brain function, warding off various kinds of cancer and preventing heart disease.
Elysium isn’t the only pterostilbene vendor. In fact, ChromaDex also offers pterostilbene for supplements separately from Niagen. – David Stipp
Cryonics: A Credible Field of Inquiry
Right now, in three facilities in the US and Russia, there are around 300 people teetering on the cusp of oblivion. They exist in a state of deep cooling called cryopreservation, and entered their chilly slumber after their hearts had stopped beating.
Before undergoing true cell death, the tissues of their brains were suspended using an ice-free process called vitrification. All are legally deceased, but if they could speak, they would likely argue that their remains do not constitute dead bodies at all. Instead, in a sense, they are just unconscious.
No-one knows if it’s possible to revive these people, but more and more of the living seem to believe that uncertainty is better than the alternative. Around 1,250 people who are still legally alive are on cryonics waiting lists, and new facilities are opening in Oregon, Australia and Europe soon.
“We have a saying in cryonics: being frozen is the second worst thing that can happen to you,” says Dennis Kowalski, president of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, the largest cryonics organization in the world. “There’s no guarantee you’ll be able to be brought back, but there is a guarantee that if you get buried or cremated, you’ll never find out.”
To the uninitiated, cryonics might seem the stuff of “Vanilla Sky,” “Demolition Man,” and other purely science fiction works. But many researchers believe that it is a credible field of inquiry, and cryobiologists are slowly chipping away at the possibility of revival.
Most recently, a team succeeded at thawing a previously vitrified rabbit brain. Even after several weeks of storage, the synapses that are thought to be crucial for brain function were intact. The rabbit was still dead, though – the researchers did not attempt to resuscitate the animal afterwards.
While a thawed out rabbit brain does not a fully revitalised person make, some believe that cryogenic revival might someday be as commonplace as treating a case of the flu or mending a broken arm.
“This is really not so earth-shattering or philosophically weird as you might think,” says Aubrey de Grey, co-founder and chief science officer at the Sens Research Foundation in California, a non-profit organisation dedicated to changing the way we research and treat age-related ill health. “It’s just medicine – another form of healthcare that helps people who are seriously sick. Once you get your head around that, it’s much less scary.” – Rachel Nuwer
Ray Kurzweil on Cryonics
Is it true you’ve elected to be frozen in the event of your untimely demise?
Ray Kurzweil: Yes, with the view toward being reanimated some decades from now. I think that will be feasible in the 2040s.
How do you feel about that prospect?
Ray Kurzweil: Poorly. I have enough trouble staying on top of my responsibilities when I’m alive and kicking, so the idea of being in suspended animation for decades is not appealing. That’s plan D. Plan A is to make it through, and I’m doing well. So far so good. I wrote these books actually as a way of encouraging myself and shaming myself into taking good care of my health so I would be an exemplar of what I’m talking about. Plan B is also to make it through. Plan C is the same thing.
If You Die Before the Singularity Arrives, Does That Mean You’ve Failed?
Yes. I regard death as the greatest tragedy. People talk about getting used to death and accepting it, but the end of each life is a terrible loss, like the Library of Alexandria burning down. All that information, all their skills, their personality, their memories are gone.
I think it’s humanity’s mission to transcend our limitations, and the most profound limitation we have is that of our life span. That’s the hardest thing for people to accept, because birth and life and death have been with us since the beginning of recorded history. But I can see a path that’s not far off where we can indefinitely extend our lives.
I believe we will reach a point around 2029 when medical technologies will add one additional year every year to your life expectancy. By that I don’t mean life expectancy based on your birthdate but rather your remaining life expectancy. – Ray Kurzweil
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