Volume 2, Issue 3 
3rd Quarter, 2007

The Geoethics of Self-Replicating Biomedical Nanotechnology for Cryonic Revival

Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D.

This article was submitted for publication in Terasem Movement, Inc.’s Journal of Geoethical Nanotechnology by Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D.

Dr. Rothblatt stresses the important principles and use of nanotechnology in the successful revival of people who are and will be cryogenically suspended.

Self-replicating biomedical nanotechnology [1] will probably be necessary to achieve revival from cryonic [2] or vitrified (both hereinafter referred to as cryonic) biostasis. [3] This article analyzes whether such use of nanotechnology is consistent with generally recognized principles of geoethics.  It concludes that provided the self-replicating biomedical nanotechnology is assuredly-contained and intended for cryonic revival it is geoethical.  Assured containment of self-replicating biomedical nanotechnology requires a physical barrier to prevent the movement of self-replicating nanobots beyond a containment zone, as well as a competent monitoring and enforcement organization separate from the entity carrying out the cryonic revival.

1. Why the Need for Self-Replicating Biomedical Nanotechnology

In cryonic biostasis an individual is neither quite living nor dead.   The individual’s body is brought down to a sufficiently low temperature that only negligible degradation of its cell and tissue structures occur.   To avoid legal problems, this freezing process occurs only after there has been a legal pronouncement of death, such as is due to a lack of detectable cardiac or brain activity.   In general, though, such freezing could precede and hence be itself the cause of a legal pronouncement of death.

Despite the legal pronouncement of death, the individual is not really dead because nothing irreversible has occurred.  With adequate technology the individual could be warmed, cured and revitalized.  Warming and revival is easy to demonstrate with vertebrates other than mammals such as fish and reptiles.  The company, 21st Century Medicine, [4] has also demonstrated this feat in 2007 with a dog’s kidney.

Although the individual’s biostasis is reversible, they are also not really alive.  They fail to demonstrate the hallmarks of biological life such as growth and taking nutrients from the environment.  They are incapable of any kind of action or communication. There is an important exception to the lifelessness of cryonauts, and that pertains to any cryonauts who previously transplanted their minds into cybernetic form.   Those individuals remain alive, although their bodies are as useless as a dead limb.  Until the medical field recognizes mind-uploaded cyberconsciousness as the continuation of brain function, (and hence inconsistent with brain death), such individuals will nevertheless be considered legally dead.  Once the medical field does recognize mind transplants, then the freezing of a diseased body will not be a killing of the body, but merely the first stage of a therapeutic procedure, namely transport into a more medically advanced future.

In a medically advanced future it will be possible for cell-sized machines (“medical nanobots”) to burrow into a frozen body, repair damage caused by freezing, cure illness, controllably de-freeze the body and assist a medical team in returning the body to full life.  A vast number of medical nanobots may be needed for this procedure.  A typical body contains over 23 billion red blood cells alone.  Too many nanobots could initially generate an immense inflammatory reaction.  Yet, as a body starts to come to life, billions of new cells will be created and many of these may need to be modified or treated by the medical nanobots.  To be effective, the medical nanobots may well need to replicate and interact with cells as rapidly as cells replicate and interact.  In essence, if medical nanobots are to assess and ensure the health of billions of cells, then they may very well need to self-replicate as autonomously as do those billions of cells.

A plausible scenario for self-replicating medical nanobots in the service of cryonic biostasis revival was provided by James Halperin in his novel The First Immortal:

“[W]e’d built a series of replicators and disassembler/assemblers that seemed suited for biostasis reversal; the first units capable of both dis- and reassembly that were also small enough to penetrate frozen bloodstreams. D/A’s each contained a tiny computer capable of holding slightly more information than human DNA does. These in turn were connected by radiolike devices to a network of much larger central computers. 

By law, we’d been required to design replicators devoid of survival skills, and with redundant systems that automatically repaired mutations. The machines could reproduce themselves, build the D/A’s to specification, and nothing more. It was an irritating law, I’d often mused, but a sensible one.

Also required, and equally rational, was that all nanotech experiments be performed in palm-sized sealed laboratories using Molecular Reconstruction Software. We could hook these mini-workshops into any two-way screens and actually build every nanomachine we design, using an array of sample atoms and molecules right there in the lab. We could even insert genetic materials to test the machines. But if anyone tried to unseal the lab to remove the physical machines, electrical charges would vaporize the contents. Thus we could design and test nanomachines, but the machines themselves couldn’t be unleashed until their capabilities had been analyzed and cleared.

Last week, the World Government Nanotech Agency had issued a permit and instruction code enabling us to build the replicators outside our sealed labs.

Now we were ready to rock and roll.” [5]

Medical nanobots are a straightforward extrapolation of current trends.  Kurzweil [6] has shown that electronic devices have been shrinking in dimension by a factor of five every two years.  At this rate, nanobots will be achieved no later than the year 2020.  Indeed, the first primitive man-made molecular machines have already been demonstrated.  The writing has been on the wall ever since IBM demonstrated an ability to spell out its name with atoms, before the turn of the century.

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1. Nanotechnology - refers broadly to a field of applied science and technology whose unifying theme is the control of matter on a scale smaller than 1 micrometre, normally 1 to 100 nanometers, and the fabrication of devices within that size range.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanotechnology     August 17, 2007 12:27PM EST

2. Cryonic - the low temperature preservation of humans and other animals that can no longer be sustained by contemporary medicine until resuscitation may be possible in the future. Human cryopreservation is not currently reversible. In the United States, cryonics can only be legally performed on humans after clinical death.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryonics  August 17, 2007 12:29PM EST

3. Vitrification - a process of converting a material into a glass-like amorphous solid which is free from any crystalline structure, either by the quick removal or addition of heat, or by mixing with an additive. Solidification of a vitreous solid occurs at the glass transition temperature (which is lower than melting temperature, Tm, due to supercooling).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitrification   August 17, 2007 12:30PM EST

Biostasis - the ability of an organism to tolerate environmental changes without having to actively adapt to them. The word is also used as a synonym for cryostasis or cryonics.  
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biostasis   August 17, 2007 12:31PM EST

4. 21st Century Medicine - 21st Century Medicine has developed an entire platform technology focused on the creation and commercialization of hypothermic preservation and cryopreservation techniques, especially by vitrification.
These developments have taken science far beyond today’s preservation limits. 21CM scientists have proven that long-term preservation of complex living systems is possible.
http://www.21cm.com/index.stm   August 17, 2007 12:36PM EST

5. The First Immortal - Halperin, James L. The First Immortal. New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1998: 218 – 219. Copyright ©1998 by James L. Halperin

6. Ray Kurzweil - (born February 12, 1948) is a pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic keyboard instruments. He is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence, transhumanism, technological singularity, and futurism.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil   August 17, 2007 12:40PM EST


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