Chemical Brain Preservation – How to Live “Forever” – WorldFuture 2012 Talk

Here’s an outline of a talk I will give at WorldFuture 2012, the World Future Society’s annual conference, in Toronto, July 27-29th, 2012. If you are a foresight professional or a futures enthusiast, I hope to see you there.

Chemical Brain Preservation: How to Live “Forever”

At present, roughly 57 million unique and precious human beings die every year, or 155,000 people every day. The memories and identities in their brains are permanently lost at present, but may not be in the near future. Chemical brain preservation is a technique that a growing number of neuroscientists believe may inexpensively preserve our memories and identity when we die, eventually for less than $10,000 per person in the developed world, and less than $3,000 per person in the developing world. Chemically preserved brains can be stored at room temperature in cemeteries, in contract storage, or even in private homes. Our organization, the Brain Preservation Foundation (, is offering a $100,000 prize to the first scientific team to demonstrate that the entire synaptic connectivity (“connectome”) of mammalian brains, where neuroscientists believe our memories and identities reside, can be perfectly preserved using these low-cost chemical techniques.

There is growing evidence that chemically preserved brains can be “read” in the future, analogous to the way a computer hard drive is read today, so that memories, and even the complete identities of the preserved individuals can eventually be restored, using low-cost and fully automated preserving, slicing, imaging and computerized reconstructing techniques. Such techniques are already being used to scan and upload the connectomes of very small animal brains (zebrafish, soon flies) today.

Amazingly, given the accelerating rate of technological advance, a person whose brain is preserved in 2020 might “return” to the world, most likely in a computer form, as early as 2060, while their loved ones and some of their friends are still alive. At the same time, all of their friends and loved ones who have also chosen preservation may also return to interact with them. We will discuss this astonishing technology and some of its social, political, and personal implications. Will 1% of any society ever choose low-cost chemical brain preservation, once it becomes available? Would you do it? If not, why not? We’ll explore group opinions and preferences, and likely scenarios for the next decade and beyond.

Still skeptical of the social value of the brain preservation choice? Please consider reading our Overview and particularly, Overcoming Objections pages at the Brain Preservation Foundation website.

Sectors: Commerce, Humanity, Futuring, Science & Technology

Comments? Feedback? Let me know, thanks. [tweetmeme source=”johnmsmart” only_single=false]

The Buffett Deficit Amendment – A Great Idea, Worth Doing When We Can

You probably know Warren Buffett’s excellent idea, now being pushed as the Buffet Rule tax plan by our current administration, to reinstate a more progressive income tax for ultrawealthy Americans. From 1936-1963 we had a top income tax rate of 80-90%, and a truly redistributive capitalist society. Deviant lobbies for the ultra-rich have dismantled this Depression-era wisdom since, and our society has paid the price of a growing rich-poor divide since 1972. If you haven’t read Buffett’s August NYT op-ed, Stop Coddling the Super-Rich, it’s worth five minutes.

You may not know that Buffett gave us another great idea in July, when he made a humorous comment during an interview that we could penalize all sitting members of congress with ineligibility for reelection whenever the US deficit exceeds three percent of GDP. Buffett’s comment may have been in jest, but some see a serious idea at its core. Congress would never vote themselves such a penalty of course, but in the age of the internet, direct democracy could allow something like this to eventually happen, and it may just be the medicine the patient needs.

An attorney, Jarrad Holst, pointed out that this deficit responsibility rule could eventually be enacted via a constitutional amendment, what we can call the Buffett Deficit Amendment, if a Convention for Proposing Amendments was called for by 2/3 of the states and if the amendment was then ratified by 3/4 of the states. If our state legislators in turn are elected largely by online campaigns, and their behaviors tracked online with respect to their campaign pledges, a world we can all work toward in coming years, we’d have the tools to get this done.

After a majorly fiscally unsound term, we’d probably want to retire just a majority or supermajority (say, 1/2 to 2/3) of congresspersons in each party, randomly chosen, with the rest remaining, so that some institutional memory is preserved. The best number is a detail the game theorists and behavioral psychologists could debate. I’m also not sure if a 3% deficit is the right number to use, but it looks close, on first approximation. As you can see from the chart below, showing our federal deficit since 1900, in addition to our current congress we’d have fired two thirds of the congress of the late 1910’s, the WWII congress, Reagan’s congress, and Bush II’s congress. With this improvement to our constitution, the big spenders and false conservatives in each era would be exposed. While any congress could overspend any time they felt it necessary for the nation, they’d also face real consequences, the way the rest of us always do. They’d have skin in the game again. Political reform is all about realigning incentives.

US Deficit as a Percent of GDP, 1900-2010

US Deficit as a Percent of GDP, 1900-2010

In order to work as beneficially as we are envisioning it might, this amendment would also require the coexistence of congressional term limits, that great impending reform (see that has made halting progress in some state legislatures, but remains blocked in our federal bodies for now. When we limit a congressperson’s term to twelve years, as in the most popular proposals, that aligns them less with special interests, their parties, and extending their own political careers, and more with their own best judgments. Along with campaign finance reform, and an accompanying set of limits on the amount of time one can spend as a lobbyist before or after a political career (8 years seems reasonable there, for a total of 20 years in politics at any level, which really should be enough for any aspiring do gooder or autocrat) more politicians can more easily choose to live the Founder’s ideal of the citizen politician. Twenty years of political service, preceded by academic training or work experience would allow a level of professionalism, but not so much that corruption and cronyism become dominant. Add in a big increase in the representativeness of our democracy in the legislature, via the addition of hundreds more short-term politicians in the House, a reform that Congress can do without any constitutional amendment, and we could even do something about our toxic lobbyist to politician ratio, which is greater than 700 to 1 now (see No Place for Amateurs, Dennis Johnson, 2001) at the Federal level.

If we had the Buffett Deficit Amendment without these accompanying reforms, politicians might never be willing to run deficits, as they would have too much to lose by doing so. That might result in a government too fiscally hamstrung for its own good, as there are times when all of us need income beyond that which we can get via voluntary debt and credit (loans, bonds, etc.). But there also needs to be a cost to coercive borrowing of the state from the public and from the future, and a more rapid renewal of our political base seems to me a particularly simple and natural consequence. In particular, given the increasing frequency of deficits in recent years, and the increasing unaccountability of government, such an amendment seems to me like common sense.

Why do we need to have such a severe consequence? Isn’t deficit spending sometimes good, as it can lead to surpluses later? Yes it is, but as Keynes argued, countercyclical spending is best done from money that has been previously saved for a rainy day. Deficit spending is spending of last resort, spending money that doesn’t exist. And without some break on it, irresponsible voters in once-wealthy nations may increasingly push their politicians into it, until the national debt cripples their future and their standing in the world. We’ve seen this recently in Greece, Spain, Italy, and we are now seeing it in the US.

Let’s conclude with the following anonymous internet saying, commonly misattributed to the 19th century Scottish politician, historian, and democracy critic Alexander Tytler. Ask yourself what else other than bankruptcy and financial disaster (which may well happen to us, if saner heads don’t prevail) would form a systemic check and balance against our runaway debt, if we don’t eventually develop some kind of Deficit Amendment:

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse over loose fiscal policy, [which is] always followed by a dictatorship [of sorts].”

Amen, Mr. Anonymous. If you like this idea, please consider taking five minutes to create an account and vote for the Buffett Deficit Amendment at aGreater.US. This site is a promising early effort at using an online process to uncover and rank bipartisan bills, particularly those with a fiscally conservative, socially liberal focus. The site lists several other potential bipartisan bills, and unfortunately most of them aren’t yet well written or referenced, but they are doing their little part to help the 99% to bring an actionable bipartisan agenda to the 2012 election. I recommend reading the following bills and if you like them, giving them your vote as well. If you find any others there you like, let us know.

On Human Destiny and the Value of an Acceleration-Aware World View

Below is start of an interview I did last month with Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon, my futurist friends who run and Fast Forward Radio. The topic was human destiny, and the personal and social value of cultivating a big picture, acceleration-aware view of the world and our opportunities within it. You can find the full text interview here, at, and listen to a related Aug 31st, 2011 audio interview, on a panel with fellow futurists Venessa Miemis and Robin Hanson, at WT2: Human Destiny Transformed.

Thoughts? Responses? Please feel free to use the comments section here, at my new blog home, and I’ll do my best to respond.  Thanks!

1. If you were to pick just one current or coming transformation that you would advise people to focus on, which one would that be?

I run the Acceleration Studies Foundation, so I’m a tad biased, but I would say one thing to focus on is to try to understand the meaning, risks, and opportunities presented by accelerating technological change, in your own life and in society.  Accelerating change is causing a whole number of transformations today, and several of these are giving us more options for what to do and how to live than we’ve had at any time in the past. Others (automation, globalization, fossil fuels, IEDs) are causing disruption in more ways than ever before. Read Martin Ford’s Lights in the Tunnel, 2009, for one of many thoughtful works on the way technology improves us in some ways, while disrupting us in others.

When you think carefully about accelerating change, you may conclude, as I have, that just a few technologies, specifically computing, communications, and nanotechnologies, are continually accelerating because every new generation of these particular technologies uses less resources per computation or physical transformation than the previous one, a phenomenon I call STEM compression. So these special technologies continually escape the “limits to growth” we see in traditional technologies. And it is these same technologies, as they perennially accelerate, that increasingly shape our future. We can think of them as the growing framework, or cage which restrains and directs all the most powerful actors today, the corporations, the governments, the ultrawealthy, the terrorists, everyone.

Our parents saw minicomputers, cheap telecom and the PC fuel the growth of multinationals, and at the same time, flatten corporate hierarchies. We’ve seen the iPod and internet disrupt the music industry, tablets are now starting to change the publishing industry, and as I argue in How the Television Will be Revolutionized, 2010, a few years from now  iTV will disrupt the television and film industries in even more powerful ways, bringing millions of channels to every device. Blogs, Wikis, virtual worlds, mirror worlds, social networks, and other facets of the internet are flowering and enhancing our collective intelligence. Twitter gives us a window on the thoughts of humanity. Smartphones connect us 24/7 to each other and the web. Sensors are proliferating across the planet, making every nation a transparent society. Lifelogs, wearable computing, telepresence, and augmented reality are just now emerging.

Today, Facebook and Twitter empower the Arab Spring. Tomorrow, we’ll have a conversational interface to the web, and cybertwins (digital assistants that model our personality and can act and transact for us, at first in simple ways, later in very intelligent ways) assisting us in our information consumption, communication, commerce, and political activities. We can expect a valuecosm to eventually emerge, quantitated versions of the publicly expressed values that each of us all hold on all kinds of topics, allowing us to connect with others who share our values, to work with others on projects that we care about, and helping us to generate a whole new level of specialization and subcultural diversity. [The rest of the interview].

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