Futurologist Medvedev about cryonics, immortality and pandemic
An interview with one of the renowned futurologists of the country. Part one
Danila Medvedev is a famous Russian futurologist, candidate for economic sciences. He advocates transhumanism, tries to popularise the ideas of immortality, cyborgisation of people, cryonics and stronger intellect. In the first part of his interview with Realnoe Vremya, he explained why he froze his granny’s brain, what futurologists rest on in their forecasts and why they aren’t paid attention at state level.
“If we develop slowly, everything will die, collapse”
What do futurologists and you in particular rest on when you make long-term forecasts? Are there probably certain models?
Futurologists use various models and methods. As for models, we can remember such a concept in psychology as frame. It is some set of our ideas about something ordinary. Let’s say if we are talking about the room, we imagine it has a floor, ceiling, table, door and so on. And if we see a room that doesn’t match this picture, we won’t consider it as a room. Such an example can be put with a human who must have two arms, two legs or if it is an animal, it must have four paws. Of course, there can be exceptions like the frame of a water bird. Earlier, scientists used to think that it must have a flat beak and webbed feet, while ordinary birds have a sharp beak and talons. How surprised they were when a bird with a water bird’s beak and talons was discovered in South America. A platypus was found in Australia, it seemed to be an animal but laid eggs.
When we talk about the future, we need models that describe how the world works, some microtheories. It is what exists in abundance. But most people aren’t familiar with these models of the future, while one they like is chosen and don’t consider it too critically. Cycles of history Pitirim Sorokin or economic Nikolay Kondratyev wrote about can be put as an example. Or the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is a model the World Bank, the World Economic Forum use. Now the Great Reset started to be discussed, the 50th anniversary of the first publication The Limits to Growth about the exhaustion of natural resources will be in 2022. When we think about the future, first of all, it is necessary to know what models exist and understand what one should go by and why.
Which one do you go by?
I go by my own development. Late last century, a transhumanist model was formulated in the West.
Now the Great Reset started to be discussed, the 50th anniversary of the first publication The Limits to Growth about the exhaustion of natural resources will be in 2022
Later, a model of economic growth linked with digital technologies appeared. It is an idea that there will be digitalisation, augmented reality, quantum computers, everybody will have start-ups, everything will run on blockchain, drones will fly everywhere in the future. It was born during the Internet boom. However, it is necessary to understand that the transhumanist model of the future saying that we will be immortal, can make artificial arms and legs, upload a computer into the brain, make artificial intelligence, nanorobots is sheer mythology, the model of the future. Another model — a model of limits to growth — says that resources run out, and we all will come to an end.
My task as a futurologist is to try to mix different models. What can a world be like in which singularity, artificial intelligence, nanorobots coexist and natural resources run out? The correct model contains the issues of choice. Now humanity is at a crossroads, and we have several roads we can take. If we develop slowly, everything will die, collapse. And if we can develop radical technologies — atomic production, nanotechnologies, then there can be other ways of development.
“We don’t have artificial hearts tough this technology was available just some 20 years ago”
It seemed to me that you leaned towards the transhumanist model...
There is a number of transhumanist areas when it comes to increasing the lifespan. To win ageing is one of them. But it is a very complex and big task. Ageing isn’t a result of one cause but as a result of God knows what in our organism consisting of a trillion cells. Scientists who try to deal with ageing aren’t very optimistic about when they will manage to sort it out. They were more optimistic about their forecasts some 20 years ago.
Let’s take cryonics, here everything is clearer. Yes, there are still questions about its mass launch. But there is the foundation, and it can be used. The third area is artificial organs. The idea seems to be simple, for instance, if we have a look at artificial hearts, it becomes clear that modern medicine isn’t compatible with the rapid progress in such spheres. It turns out that an artificial heart can be made, but it cannot be certified.
On ethical grounds?
Not only. Ethical reasons are mainly about the restricted use of animals for testing. American lads who made an artificial heart in 2000 were permitted to test it only on 10 calves. Not 1,000 or 10,000 but just 10. Yes, there were a lot of errors they didn’t manage to see. And when they started the testing on 12 people, these errors came about.
From a transhumanist point of view, such a position seems idiocy. It might seem that they should be permitted to test their invention on an unlimited number of calves, even a million. But this is in conflict with ethical concerns in society. But it turned out that we don’t have artificial hearts that would be massively used. Though this technology was available just some 20 years ago.
Which area do you support, cyborgisation, cryonisation, immortality?
All of them. And something else, the head transplantation technology, which is very promising. Unfortunately, this won’t happen on its own. What transhumanists hoped for at the end of the past and beginning of this century didn’t become a reality. We thought if these trends stay, they are unstoppable, but this did not turn out to be true.
“The same cryonics is now in a completely awkward situation”
What is needed for this? Certain people?
Yes, certain people. The same cryonics is now in a completely awkward situation. On the one hand, everybody has heard of it in the last 20 years. On the other hand, nobody thinks that it is their responsibility and introduces it on a large scale. Moreover, if we have a look at the period 150 years ago, we will see the example of hygienists’ movement. When it was first discovered how the infection spread, it became clear that it was a social problem, hygienists appeared who started to go and propagate the importance of clean water, plenty of light in the house.
In the end they tested different methods and concluded that vaccination could be carried out. And sterility, antiseptics and so on started to be introduced in hospitals. This resulted in a serious social movement that was very politically strong in Europe. In the case of cryonics, we don’t see this due to various fundamental reasons. But it turns out that people can know in big medical, financial organisations that there is cryonics, it is good, and people shouldn’t think that its mass introduction is their expertise.
The same cryonics is now in a completely awkward situation. On the one hand, everything has heard of it in the last 20 years. On the other hand, nobody thinks that it is their responsibility, and doesn’t introduce it on a large scale
Is it true you froze your granny’s brain. Do you think you will somehow need it in your life?
Yes, it is true, at that moment we did what we could, we froze my granny’s brain to save her identity. It was a clear step for me. This is a problem, here is a solution. Also, I understand that the development of technologies for resurrection that will be necessary also mainly depends on me and people sharing the same civil position.
How do you think this frozen brain can be used? What do you mean when you say the resurrection technology?
Several methods can be developed: to create a body and clone brain cells. It is a necessary step so that we can our beloved person: “We can make a new body for you.” But almost nobody does it. And somebody does, there is a million various restrictions. While this should be done. It is an option of the solution to various problems — a shortage of organs for transplantation, ageing, different injuries.
“The number of victims of the pandemic could have been limited to tens or hundreds of people”
In one of the interviews you said you predicted the coronavirus pandemic. If futurologists were paid attention, included in some consultation agency, what effect would it have had?
I think if a normal job was done with futurologists on strategic issues, safety issues, the number of victims of the pandemic could have been limited to tens or hundreds of people. All the helplessness of humanity when it comes across a completely new and unexpected situation is what futurology protects from. Precisely futurology allows one to experience confusion, shock, surprise in advance by thinking about the future and understanding how to act in this situation.
What do you mean by saying “predicted the pandemic”? Did you predict the type of the virus and the scale of the epidemic? Or did you just assumed the possibility of an abstract pandemic?
Predicting the scale is a tough task, unlike predicting that it can happen. It is impossible to say when this will happen and how many people will die, it is necessary to consider too many factors. But the fact that I compared models of global risks helped me to predict that in general it was possible. Analysing the situation I understood that I understood that a fall of an asteroid, an explosion on the Sun and a global pandemic are among very serious problems that we can come across at any moment. I talked about this at a lecture organised for Gazprom neft in late 2019, almost three weeks before the first contagion in Wuhan.
If a normal job was done with futurologists on strategic issues, safety issues, the number of victims of the pandemic could have been limited to tens or hundreds of people
Why do you think nobody listens to futurologists at government level?
The problem is that everybody is so busy, in a hurry, fuss. Everybody has key efficiency indicators, the president’s “May decrees,” every day employees of the state apparatus receive a lot of emails from agencies. In this situation, people have few possibilities to sit and think. While futurology needs somebody in the company or a public organisation to allow himself to stop and think for at least a week or so.
Another problem is the absence of corresponding educational programmes. It is what we plan to do seriously in 2022. Perhaps with University 20.35. A company can send its specialist to the Skolkovo Management School, RANEPA, Higher School of Economics to take some courses for six months or a year. They have some futuristic programmes, particularly on strategic planning. It is a step forward. But this is anyway not enough. Specific long-term thinking programmes are necessary that must be available so that companies can teach their workers. Now they cannot teach them. As a result, nobody can understand some difficult moments, they haven’t worked with them, and they are completely ignored.
For instance, the presidential decree No. 666 on the reduction of greenhouse gases was adopted in our country in late 2020. According to the Paris Agreement, all countries must develop long-term programmes. And a corresponding decree was adopted here. Just a month ago, the Ministry of Economy published the first draft of such a programme. In fact the ministry should not write and put it on the shelf. Big corporations, private and public companies should participate in the development of the programme. Long-term planning for at least 30 years will gradually be used in the next years, and companies will demand this from educational institutions, and more projects will be discussed and written. Finally, it is necessary to talk about not only what will happen in a month or a year but at least in 10-30 years.