Cryonics as Charity

post by jkaufman · 2012-11-10T14:21:25.105Z · score: 3 (8 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 40 comments

Imagine you accept the main idea of cryonics, that if we freeze brains future technology is likely to be able to extract the encoded information and revive the person digitally. [1] While this currently costs about $120K/person, if we did it routinely to everyone it could probably get down below $1000/person. Which is interesting: the current cost of averting a death is around $1700, but someone who doesn't die of malaria is still going to die of old age, so you can't really say their death was "averted". While someone who is revived after being frozen wouldn't live eternally, they might get to experience thousands of years of subjective life. In terms of life-years, getting cryonics to be really cheap and paying for people to get it sounds like it beats GiveWell's top charities.

Aside from not agreeing that cryonics is likely to work, however, I don't think the value is actually all that high. A future world which would revive large numbers of people we freeze today would be massively different from the current world economically, but would still have constraints. There would be some number of digital people that could run simultaneously on whatever people-emulating hardware they have. Preserving additional 21st century minds would give future people the option to run revived people instead of new people, but I don't think it affects the overall number emulated.


[1] I don't think this is likely.

I also posted this on my blog.

40 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Giles · 2012-11-10T23:02:24.657Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think it would be fairer to compare your $1000/thousands_of_life_years figure against other equally speculative back-of-the-envelope calculations, instead of against AMF. Generally more speculative causes (such as xrisk reduction) can produce better expected returns, but with a greater chance that we're somehow fooling ourselves or ignoring an unknown unknown.

Also, where did the $1000 estimate come from? Does it include the probability of success of cryonics and the probability that we survive for thousands of subjective years without destroying ourselves?

comment by jkaufman · 2012-11-11T03:13:46.012Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

where did the $1000 estimate come from?

It was an estimate from someone at an optimial philanthropy meetup. I don't think it included any improbability discounts.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-11-11T19:38:21.444Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There would be some number of digital people that could run simultaneously on whatever people-emulating hardware they have.

I expect this number to become unimaginably high in the foreseeable future, to the point that it is doubtful we'll be able to generate enough novel cognitive structures to make optimal use of it. The tradeoff would be more like 'bringing back dead people' v. 'running more parallel copies of current people.' I'd also caution against treating future society as a monolithic Entity with Values that makes Decisions - it's very probably still going to be capitalist. I expect the deciding factor regarding whether or not cryopatients are revived to be whether or not Alcor can pay for the revival while remaining solvent.

Also, I'm not at all certain about your value calculation there. Creating new people is much less valuable than preserving old ones. It would be wrong to round up and exterminate a billion people in order to ensure than one billion and one babies are born.

comment by jkaufman · 2012-11-12T13:18:21.732Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It would be wrong to round up and exterminate a billion people in order to ensure than one billion and one babies are born.

I agree, but I don't think that cuts to the point. The process of rounding up and killing a billion people, the sadness of people left behind, the skill loss, and the change of the age distribution, would all have large negative effects, and a billion and one babies would be a heck of a baby boom.

While practical issues mean that killing people is just about never the right thing to do, I don't agree that "creating new people is much less valuable than preserving old ones". See my response to Nisan.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-11-12T18:45:00.023Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This perspective looks deeply insane to me.

I would not kill a million humans to arrange for one billion babies to be born, even disregarding the practical considerations you mentioned, and, I suspect, neither would most other people. This perspective more or less requires anyone in a position of power to oppose birth control availability, and require mandatory breeding.

I would be about as happy with a human population of one billion as a hundred billion, not counting the number of people who'd have to die to get us down to a billion. I do not have strong preferences over the number of humans. The same does not go for the survival of the living.

comment by jkaufman · 2012-11-17T02:52:52.263Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would not kill a million humans to arrange for one billion babies to be born, even disregarding the practical considerations you mentioned, and, I suspect, neither would most other people.

It's extremely hard to get away from practical considerations here, and it tends to be hard for people to generalize ethics to things as far removed from practicality as killing a million adults to replace them with a billion babies.

This perspective more or less requires anyone in a position of power to oppose birth control availability, and require mandatory breeding.

It would? While mandatory breeding (via birth control denial or other measures) would make for a lot of people, their lives would be much worse. The reason a person in power opposing birth control and mandating breeding sounds horrible is the same as why I would oppose it: it would suck. No one wants to be forced to have kids.

I also care much more about the total number of people to ever exist (again, weighted by how good their lives are) than the total number to exist at once. Dramatically increasing the number of people alive now, even if you did it in a way that didn't affect average happiness, would probably just make us burn through our current stock of resources faster and not lead to more long-term total people.

I would be about as happy with a human population of one billion as a hundred billion

Now this sounds deeply insane.

(Not as an insult! It just seems horribly scale insensitive.)

comment by lsparrish · 2012-11-10T22:17:45.715Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

More people adopting (or wanting to adopt) cryonics should increase the investment in research, which increases the chance (and most likely the certainty level) of it working. Also consider that higher tech methods may be more expensive to implement. Storage costs would certainly drop, but if it turns out you need ten times the equipment to do ten times the damage reduction it may not drop the cost overall, but still end up with higher utility.

comment by handoflixue · 2012-11-14T22:49:49.884Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've already written a couple articles on this, but I'll summarize them here. Basically, your assumptions seem overly generous:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/5w1/the_cost_of_universal_cryonics/ - My optimistic estimate was ~$6K for universal cryonics

http://lesswrong.com/lw/6xk/years_saved_cryonics_vs_villagereach/ - If you assume cryonics has a 100% chance of working, it's actually ALREADY matching Village Reach on a cost-per-year-lived basis, and the quality of life is probably higher. But p(Cryonics) = 1 is a very shaky assumption.

comment by Nisan · 2012-11-11T20:59:50.278Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

would give future people the option to run revived people instead of new people, but I don't think it affects the overall number emulated.

I'm confused. This argument seems to assume that creating a new person and letting them live for a year has the same value as letting an already-existing person exist for a year. But this is absurd.

comment by jkaufman · 2012-11-12T13:14:10.771Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It is based on the idea that most of what matters is human-years-experienced, weighted by how good those years are. I don't think that's absurd.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-11-14T22:58:57.252Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

We totally need a UFAI optimizing for this, just for the inevitable stage of countless factory-grown dopamine-fed, endorphin-drinking genetically-hyperhedonic infants being raised in superstimulating creches for a year before all of their nociceptors are rejiggered to create oxytocin cascade and they're loaded on a conveyor belt bound for the incinerator.

comment by jkaufman · 2012-11-17T02:40:44.575Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure those count as very good human-years-experienced.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-11-17T03:52:45.659Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

comment by Nisan · 2012-11-12T18:31:21.211Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for linking your thoughts on this matter.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-10T16:14:17.507Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Preserving additional 21st century minds would give future people the option to run revived people instead of new people, but I don't think it affects the overall number emulated.

That's not true. The investment funds will make a difference: by deferring consumption of resources throughout their lifetime, a cryonics patient is freeing up resources for continued compounding exponential economic growth until at least their revival.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-10T21:38:24.667Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Except that they are also deferring their labor contribution to the economy.

The free resources in the past didn't lead to compounding exponential growth; why would current free resources do so?

comment by gwern · 2012-11-10T21:58:19.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Except that they are also deferring their labor contribution to the economy.

How did they earn the money they spent on cryonics, then?

The free resources in the past didn't lead to compounding exponential growth; why would current free resources do so?

Global growth has been exponential for a long time, even if the exponent is not as impressive as China's 8% annual growth for the last X years.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-10T22:42:52.685Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Except that they are also deferring their labor contribution to the economy.

How did they earn the money they spent on cryonics, then?

Where did the resources to put them into cryonics come from?

Consider the few data points in recorded human history: Has the doubling time of economic growth remained fairly constant, or varied widely? Is it more complicated to assume that growth in in general exponential, with the amount of free resources determining the exponent, or to assume that the size of the economy is proportional to the product amount of the most-limiting resource at the time (Labor, arable land, electric power) and the efficiency of use of that resource at that time? Either way, further explanations are required to discuss the variation of the data from the prediction.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-10T23:13:37.048Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Where did the resources to put them into cryonics come from?

From... what they earned while alive (or in rare cases, from others who choose to spend earnings on them). Where does any resources for anything come?

Consider the few data points in recorded human history: Has the doubling time of economic growth remained fairly constant, or varied widely?

'Few'? Exponentials have been completely unambiguous for like 500 years and datapoints before then can be fit to an exponential.

Is it more complicated to assume that growth in in general exponential, with the amount of free resources determining the exponent, or to assume that the size of the economy is proportional to the product amount of the most-limiting resource at the time (Labor, arable land, electric power) and the efficiency of use of that resource at that time?

I've never heard any economist say global growth and the Industrial Revolution was just this 'proportional' thing you are talking about. (eg.the Solow growth model without the 'technology' factor fits observed growth even worse than with the technology factor.) And I'm not sure what you're saying even differs from an exponential - what is an exponential but proportional growth, repeated every year?

So no, no further discussion is necessary. The point about cryonics patients helping long-term economic growth follows from the most basic points of economic theory and observed economic history.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-11T03:06:10.997Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

500 years is 'few', yes. Especially considering that population~labor has been growing roughly exponentially for most of it.

With the advent of industrial equipment, labor is no longer as often the limiting factor.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-11T03:24:22.101Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Especially considering that population~labor has been growing roughly exponentially for most of it.

Per capita income has also been going up! Massively! Why are you even bringing that up?

With the advent of industrial equipment, labor is no longer as often the limiting factor.

What does limiting factor mean here? Everything is a limiting factor in some sense, because supply creates its own demand.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-11T06:43:58.542Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Really? I don't see a large market for seawater. The supply is immense, so there should be a demand created for it, especially since it is used as a raw material for fresh water, a product which is in high demand in many areas.

The hypothesis that the market for labor will always clear is trivially falsified.

Real per capita income is simply total production divided by population. I doubt that real per-capita income has been increasing at anywhere near a constant power across history, rather than remaining roughly constant except during periods of technological development and/or social upheaval. In particular, pastoral societies have roughly constant total production (determined by the amount of arable land available and being used), and more labor does not produce more. Similarly for some other natural resources, such as properly managed fishing. More labor does not provide a larger sustainable catch.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-11T17:49:12.239Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Really? I don't see a large market for seawater. The supply is immense, so there should be a demand created for it, especially since it is used as a raw material for fresh water, a product which is in high demand in many areas.

Er... Maybe you should think a little harder.

Nations have fought throughout history and millions died for seawater - access to seawater, specifically, because there is so much seawater that you can use it as ultra-cheap fast transportation. (Russia alone fought several wars just to get one warmwater port anywhere, salt or fresh.) Besides that, seawater is sold commercially for fish and animal keeping; deep seawater is sold as a dietary supplement (popular in Japan); and much more importantly:

since it is used as a raw material for fresh water, a product which is in high demand in many areas.

You even provided your own example! Desalinization plants are very expensive and produce expensive water... water that is feasible because seawater is free. Supply creates its own demand.

Real per capita income is simply total production divided by population. I doubt that real per-capita income has been increasing at anywhere near a constant power across history, rather than remaining roughly constant except during periods of technological development and/or social upheaval.

Oh for heaven's sake. Go look it up!

comment by Decius · 2012-11-11T20:12:48.996Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why didn't anyone think to pump seawater into trucks and meet Russia's need for seawater? Because Russia didn't need seawater, it needed transportation links.

Desal plants typically don't have dirty water shipped to them, they are located where dirty water is. The limited resource consumed by their construction isn't seawater, it's location.

If sea levels rise, the added volume of seawater will not make desalination cheaper, just like a surplus of labor in the presence of labor price controls doesn't create a demand for labor at the controlled price.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-11T20:25:29.362Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

At some point the escalating price does cause the curves to intersect; Russia didn't need seawater at the prices it would cost to build canals.

Desal plants typically don't have dirty water shipped to them, they are located where dirty water is. The limited resource consumed by their construction isn't seawater, it's location.

Which matters why? If you can put the desalinization plant by the ocean and pipe the clean water 85 kilometers to the city (as Australia is doing now, and similar to a planned canal in Israel), the oceanwater still is being consumed.

And consumption of the infinite ocean water is still higher than what it would have been if the supply were smaller. "Supply creates its own demand." Not a hard concept.


Finally, I'd like to ask: how on earth does any of this undermine my original point that cryonics patients increase an economy's capital by not consuming and hence increase long-term growth and net wealth? These are either accounting identities or borne out by many centuries of economic growth, and is a trivial claim.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-11T23:02:27.779Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A suspended person is economically as productive as a nonexistent person.

Nonexistent people have had zero impact on economy historically. Why would suspended people have an effect in the future?

And if supply created demand, there should be a huge demand for seawater, rather than a small demand. As it is, the demand for seawater is pretty much inelastic with supply.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-11T23:08:25.425Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A suspended person is economically as productive as a nonexistent person.

So no such thing as capital exists, savings has no relation to growth, and suspended peoples' past life choices (like not spending scores of thousands of dollars on consumption) contribute exactly nothing to the economy! Of course!

I give up. You have no freaking clue about economics.

And if supply created demand, there should be a huge demand for seawater, rather than a small demand

I've already pointed out the huge demand. Feel free to calculate how many millions of gallons all the uses I gave make up each year. I'm not wasting more of my time on you.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-12T17:34:46.838Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A suspended person is economically as productive as a nonexistent person.

So no such thing as capital exists, savings has no relation to growth, and suspended peoples' past life choices (like not spending scores of thousands of dollars on consumption) contribute exactly nothing to the economy! Of course!

You should still pretend to try to understand what I said.

I didn't realize that you were seizing the saved assets of suspended people in your calculations; I was distributing them to next-of-kin or as otherwise directed by the suspended.

What part of suspending a person creates capital?

comment by gwern · 2012-11-12T17:46:50.807Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't realize that you were seizing the saved assets of suspended people in your calculations; I was distributing them to next-of-kin or as otherwise directed by the suspended.

Which you would do... why?

What part of suspending a person creates capital?

Look up how suspension works.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-12T22:19:10.055Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I would allow a suspended person to provide directions regarding the disbursement of their property for the same reason I would allow it for a deceased person: to do otherwise would be immoral to me.

Looking strictly at the mechanical aspect, suspension requires a capital investment, and the only possible return on that investment is to preserve a brain pattern or entire body. As opposed to, for example, murdering someone considering suspension and giving the money they would have spend on suspension to entrepreneurs with good ideas and business plans.

Yes, there is a certain amount of economic activity which results in the suspension; but all of the labor and materials used in the suspension would otherwise be available for other uses, without diminishing the economic value of consumption.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-12T22:24:41.632Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Looking strictly at the mechanical aspect, suspension requires a capital investment, and the only possible return on that investment is to preserve a brain pattern or entire body. As opposed to, for example, murdering someone considering suspension and giving the money they would have spend on suspension to entrepreneurs with good ideas and business plans.

Suspension as practiced is not like that; there are more capital investments than the mechanical. You really don't know anything about the trust funds?

comment by Decius · 2012-11-13T17:41:42.882Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do the trust funds have a higher return-on-investment than the investments of active people? The amounts spent on maintaining the suspension are not spent on any other economic activity, and any amount reserved for the use of the suspended is unavailable for any other use.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-13T21:46:57.606Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Do the trust funds have a higher return-on-investment than the investments of active people?

Irrelevant.

The amounts spent on maintaining the suspension are not spent on any other economic activity, and any amount reserved for the use of the suspended is unavailable for any other use.

True and false respectively.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-14T07:04:03.741Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why comparing the finances of suspended people compared to active people is irrelevant, when one of the comparisons is between a suspended individual and an active one.

When you wake up, you either have liquid assets or you don't. Any liquid assets aren't contributing to meeting capital requirements. If there's a secondary market capable of absorbing your bonds, then your bonds don't contribute significantly to the available capital.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-14T16:19:59.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The comparison is irrelevant because it's an accounting identity that capital is production minus consumption; cryonicsers, by consuming less, increase capital and increased capital increases long-term exponential growth. (Which I've pointed out in several ways so far but you still haven't understood.)

If there's a secondary market capable of absorbing your bonds, then your bonds don't contribute significantly to the available capital.

And on the margin? If no one's bonds 'contribute significantly', and one must 'contribute significantly' to affect anything, then we can just play the sorites game and wind up with a bond market in which the available capital is the same and yet no one actually has invested in bonds! Fascinating how your logic works.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-15T00:07:00.608Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cyronicsers, by producing exactly what they consume (less the cryonics expenses), contribute nothing to capital while suspended.

Dead people, by consuming non of what they produced prior to their death, contribute exactly the same, except that it costs less to remain dead than to remain suspended.

Where is the maximum? What number of people put into free suspension would maximize long-term growth until they were removed. All of them? Then who does the growth? N, or N% of them? Why non N-1, or N+1; what changes from the current situation to the one in which N or N% people are in suspension?

The sorites game ends as soon as there are not enough willing buyers to buy all of the bonds that are being used as liquid assets. Those bonds would have been sold anyway- to the person who now wishes to buy them, if nobody else.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-15T00:35:42.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Cyronicsers, by producing exactly what they consume (less the cryonics expenses), contribute nothing to capital while suspended.

Still going on about that?

Dead people, by consuming non of what they produced prior to their death, contribute exactly the same, except that it costs less to remain dead than to remain suspended.

Wrong.

Where is the maximum? What number of people put into free suspension would maximize long-term growth until they were removed. All of them? Then who does the growth? N, or N% of them? Why non N-1, or N+1; what changes from the current situation to the one in which N or N% people are in suspension?

Long-term growth is maximized by spending as little as possible; this doesn't change at any %, your attempt at the sorites notwithstanding. The usual explanation for why spending is not minimized relates to utility functions, discounting, and diminishing returns (which is not no returns, I say in advance to forestall one of your misunderstandings).

The sorites game ends as soon as there are not enough willing buyers to buy all of the bonds that are being used as liquid assets. Those bonds would have been sold anyway- to the person who now wishes to buy them, if nobody else.

And on each margin, fewer bonds will be offered and fewer ventures launched, the point your 'significantly' glosses over entirely.

comment by Decius · 2012-11-15T16:52:20.504Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Consider the world in which some event magically safely placed every human being into suspension for a period of three years; 2009-2012; then removed them from suspension today. Maintenance was performed magically to the same degree it is in the real world, and whatever other incidental magic is performed as needed.

Does this world have a larger economy than it did in 2009? Is it larger than the real world equivalent?

The sorites game ends as soon as there are not enough willing buyers to buy all of the bonds that are being used as liquid assets. Those bonds would have been sold anyway- to the person who now wishes to buy them, if nobody else.

And on each margin, fewer bonds will be offered and fewer ventures launched, the point your 'significantly' glosses over entirely.

I guess that's part of 'demand creates its own supply' then; in both cases the number of people who want to buy bonds exceeds the number of bonds being offered; but if more of the buyers want to use bonds as liquid assets more bonds will be offered? The market doesn't clear in either case- there are still buyers who want to buy bonds, but there are no more bonds offered. If there were more bonds being offered, then the people who would buy them on the secondary market would buy them on the primary market; there cannot be buyers with unmet demand on the secondary market and sellers with unsold bonds on the primary market.

comment by gwern · 2012-11-15T17:29:20.919Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Does this world have a larger economy than it did in 2009? Is it larger than the real world equivalent?

Your hypothetical is irrelevant and would be irrelevant even if everyone in the world signed up for cryonics.

I guess that's part of 'demand creates its own supply' then

No, it's just an observation that not every possible clearing market of bonds will maximize growth... See previous points about utility and discounting etc.

comment by Fadeway · 2012-11-10T15:20:07.539Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I find a hundredfold cost decrease quite unlikely, but then, I'm not familiar at all with the costs involved or their potential to be reduced. If the idea of cryonics were accepted widely enough for it to be an acceptable alternative to more expensive treatment though, freezing old people with negative utility to society until a potential technological Singularity or merely the advent of mind uploading would not be far off - and that would be efficient even without cheap cryonics.