Project focus | Cryonics: who wants to live forever?

Produced as part of The Future Starts Here

On now until Sunday, 4 November 2018

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The ultimate claim on the future is immortality. Long the preserve of fiction or the divine, a number of research labs and companies around the world are now working to turn the idea of living forever into reality. They offer 'Cryonics', or the process of freezing your body to be reawoken in the future when we have 'solved death'. For instance, a terminally ill patient could be cooled down to the point where their condition did not deteriorate, awaiting the time when technology had improved in order to save them.

If this sounds like science fiction, that's because it is. It has yet to have been demonstrated, and remains highly speculative. But this hasn't stopped many people from working on the problem, or people signing up to be frozen.

Front and rear views: Cryonics alert bracelet, Alcor Life Extension Foundation, 2014

Anders Sandberg, a professor of Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute and advisor to The Future Starts Here, is one of about 2,000 people worldwide who have enlisted as a participant. He wears a necklace and a bracelet issued by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, the market leader in cryonics, which gives instructions to first response medical teams in case of his death, such as 'No autopsy' and 'Cooling with ice'.

Cryonics means bringing the far into the near. My alert tag indicates that I can be thrust into the future at any point. Paying the life insurance that will fund my possible future suspension means I am buying a ticket to the future.

Anders Sandberg

Behind this cold, seemingly dystopian procedure of freezing bodies lies an optimism in the future; a belief that things will get better, and a desire to live (again) in this new world.

A toolkit for cryopreservation, Standby Kit, Cryonics Institute, 2018

This 'Standby Kit' is contains instruments for the preparation of a body upon death until transfer to a cryopreservation facility. Put simply, if a person signed up to cryonics were to die, this is the kit needed to begin cooling their body for the fridge. It comprises various medical devices, such as a basic CPR kit, ice cooler, stopwatch, a thermometer to gauge brain temperature, ice fishing gloves, body bag and a white coffin. While cryonics is so often discussed in abstract, philosophical terms, as a theoretical concept, the 'Standby Kit' brings home the banal, grisly reality. Would you ask a loved one to undertake this process on your body?

Inside a cryonics laboratory by Superflux