Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Shawn Mikula on Brain Preservation Protocols and Extensions

Here's an interview with Shawn Mikula  a neuroscientist on his recent paper in Nature Methods describing a new protocol for preserving a mouse brain such that, in principle, the entire neuronal connectome can be scanned (actually doing it using current technology would take years).

The work is exciting because it shows that in as little as 3 years, a similar protocol for humans could be devised. That'd pave the way for mind uploading and other advances in neuroscience.

Here we describe a preparation, BROPA (brain-wide reduced-osmium staining with pyrogallol-mediated amplification), that results in the preservation and staining of ultrastructural details throughout the brain at a resolution necessary for tracing neuronal processes and identifying synaptic contacts between them. Using serial block-face electron microscopy (SBEM), we tested human annotator ability to follow neural ‘wires’ reliably and over long distances as well as the ability to detect synaptic contacts. Our results suggest that the BROPA method can produce a preparation suitable for the reconstruction of neural circuits spanning an entire mouse brain

Comparison OF BROPA to the similar but older ROTO


Saturday, 25 April 2015

How to sign up for Alcor cryo

A few months ago, I signed up for Alcor's brain-only cryopreservation. The entire process took me 11 weeks from the day I started till the day I received my medical bracelet (the thing that’ll let paramedics know that your dead body should be handled by Alcor). I paid them $90 for the application fee. From now on, every year I’ll pay $530 for Alcor membership fees, and also pay $275 for my separately purchased life insurance.

This article is intended for those who already think cryopreservation is a good idea but are putting it off since they don't know exactly what needs to be done. As you'll see from the cryopreservation agreement (page 10), the procedure is still experimental so there's a good chance that you won't be revived even if you are "frozen" the moment you die.

I chose to go the neurocryopreservation route since it seems to offer better chances for a high quality preservation, and also since it will be slightly easier for your remains to be evacuated from the storage facility in case of an emergency.

The process

Fill out the Alcor membership application available at the Alcor Membership Information and Enrollment Instructions Page. You'll have to pay the application fee of $90 to continue the process by filling out your credit card details on the last page. If you want to pay in a different manner, like I did, just call them directly at 480-905-1906 and someone will take your money.

Sign the cryo contract and get it cosigned

Next Alcor'll physically mail you the cryopreservation contracts to read and sign. Since the document runs to 60 pages, you'll need about 2 hours to read through everything. Once you're done, you'll need 3 witnesses to sign the contract. If you live in California, you will NOT need a notary to sign it.

Apply for life insurance

In order to pay for my cryopreservation, I chose to use a life insurance policy. You can use the life insurance policy offered by your employer, but only if the policy is portable i.e. you can change the legal owner and the legal beneficiary of the policy to Alcor.

I simply went to the GEICO Website and looked around for a life insurance policy that didn't require me to submit to a physical exam first. I couldn't complete the application online but a representative called me and got me insured for $22.50 per month within 24 hours.

I've heard from others who are signed up for cryo that Rudi Hoffman, a financial planner, gets good life insurance deals and will also help with the paperwork.

Change the beneficiary and owner of the insurance policy to Alcor

Once you have your life insurance policy, you'll need to change the beneficiary and owner to Alcor so that they receive the benefits in the event of your death. You'll need to
  1. Request the required forms from your insurance company
  2. Fill out, return, and confirm receipt of the change of owner form first
  3. Then fill out and return the change of beneficiary form
This was the most frustrating part of the process since I had to call the insurance company weekly for more than a month to check on the status of my forms. Note that the Alcor folks will help you fill out your change of ownership and beneficiary forms. Just ask.

Receive your Alcor medallion

Once you've confirmed that your policy has been changed, let Alcor know and they'll send you a membership packet containing a necklace and a bracelet for you to wear. In case you're involved in a fatal accident, the necklace should inform paramedics of how to treat your body until Alcor arrives.

If you'll frequently be travelling outside the U.S., ask Alcor to send you a necklace that has a phone number with the American country code prefix on it.

Alcor necklace (front)

Alcor necklace (reverse)


The preceding is all you need to be fully signed up. For bonus points, you can also do the following:

  1. Get your family members to sign affidavits promising not to block Alcor’s preservation activities after you're dead.
  2. Create a trust fund for when you’re revived.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Picking the Right Fields

One of my goals is to see the world in a hundred years from now, that is 2115. Sadly, even if I reached the maximum observed human lifespan of 122 years, I’d still only make it another 90 years.
Seeing 2115 requires three things to occur: live long enough for the right technology to be developed, make humans not have to die anymore, and avoid global catastrophic risks. Here are my very rough estimates for the minimum amount of money that needs to be spent over the next 10 years to solve each problem
  • Live long: $0.5 million
  • No death: $1MM
  • No catastrophes: greater than $10 billion

Live long enough for the right technology to be developed

I need about $50,000 annually to live a good life. This involves purchasing creature comforts and signing up for cryonics. 10 years of this gives $0.5 million. Sadly, cryonics is not yet guaranteed to work, otherwise I could just put myself to sleep right now for much less money.

Make humans not have to die anymore

I see two paths to this
  1. Suspended animation: This involves preserving the body (or at least the brain) before it is information theoretically dead. Through private conversations with researchers in chemo- and cryo-preservation I learnt that it’ll take roughly $1 million and 3 years to develop procedures to preserve a human brain. This assumes, of course, that the vast majority of what makes us human lies in our brains.
  2. SENS research program: The SENS research foundation funds a research program at many different universities to cure aging by reversing the cellular damage that accumulates over our lifetimes. Their founder estimates that it’ll take $200 million to $1 billion dollars over 10 years to make the fastest progress on solving the problem of death.

Avoid global catastrophic risks

The few risks I looked into all would cost more than $10 billion over the next 10 years to avert. For instance, the 2015 U.S. budget has $1.6 billion for nuclear non-proliferation and at least $1.2 billion for biodefense. Surprisingly, artificial intelligence risk had no estimate I could find.

Next Actions

I’ve begun working on extending my healthy life span by increasing exercise, eating better, avoiding smoking, and driving more carefully
I’m also volunteering with the Brain Preservation Foundation, which funds research into cryonics and other means of brain preservation. Hopefully we’ll spur even better preservation protocols to be developed so that within a decade far fewer people will have to die any more.
FAI research seems potentially high leverage as well despite, or maybe because of, its unknown costs.There are very few people working on the related problems now (I couldn’t even find a precise definition of control problem), and yet it requires no specialized equipment, just a brain and an Internet connection. This suggests that trying to solve FAI-related problems could be unusually useful.