The concept of having your body preserved after you die from an incurable disease has been around for decades. Advocates for Cryogenics, the technique of preserving a dead body by freezing it with liquid nitrogen, believe that one day in the future, scientists will be able warm the bodies up and bring them back to life, so doctors can cure them of the diseases which caused their demise.
There was even a famous hoax (now debunked) which said that Walt Disney’s body is frozen so it could be revived once a cure for the lung cancer that killed him was found.
According to The Washington Post, a new startup called Nectome claims to have invented a proprietary chemical solution that can keep the brain intact for hundreds, even thousands of years. “You can think of what we do as a fancy form of embalming that preserves not just the outer details but the inner details,” Robert McIntyre, the company’s founder told the MIT Technology Review.
But there is a catch. With Cryogenics, the patients’ bodies were frozen after they died, but anyone who signs up to be immortalized by Nectome must be willing to allow the company to euthanize them. Robert McIntyre, Nectome’s founder, says that the brain must be fresh for the procedure to work, therefore the patient must be alive and willing to die so that the embalming chemicals can do their job. The product is “100 percent fatal,” McIntyre admitted. “The user experience will be identical to physician-assisted suicide.”
But who would want to though an experiment where you must die, and the chances to be revived are, realistically, slim to none? Even if the brain could be reanimated, there’s still plenty of doubt about whether memories can be stored in (almost) dead tissue, so who would think this is even worth a try? McIntyre thinks the terminally ill will be willing to undergo the procedure — and he has the data to back up his theory. Already 25 people have given him a fully refundable deposit of $10,000 (a total price has yet to be established) to one day do the fatal mind-backup.
Sam Altman, a 32-year-old investor who is one of the creators of the Y Combinator program, is one of the 25 people. Altman tells MIT Technology Review he’s pretty sure minds will be digitized in his lifetime. “I assume my brain will be uploaded to the cloud,” he says.
Currently, the company is not selling its service and may not be doing so for a few years.
The company has already raised $1 million in funding to date and is part of the elite class of start-ups that will soon be presenting to potential investors at accelerator Y Combinator’s Demo Days. It has also received a $960,000 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health for its brain imaging work.