Volume 5, Issue 1 
October 2010

Geoethics for Cryonic Revival Nanotech & BioNano Sleeves

Martine Rothblatt, Ph.D

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Dr. Martine Rothblatt during the 4th Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology on July 20, 2008 at the Terasem Island Amphitheatre in Second Life.

Dr. Rothblatt proposes a solution to approvable self-replicating nanotechnology, useful in its potential to extend human life, with respect to the Asilomar Guidelines approach of assigning levels of risk.

My presentation is a companion to an article by Doug Mulhall entitled, "Cryonic Enabling Technologies And The Bioweapons Risk.[1]" In his article, Doug referred to an organization, InterRep [2], that was a macro solution to regulating nanotechnology, to keep it geoethical.

What I am proposing is also a micro solution. A tool that an organization could use to give us all a fast start into approvable self-replicating nanotech.

The idea for the workshop on geoethical nanotechnology came from a philosopher who's still living and teaching today in Germany, his name is Ulrich Beck[3]. He wrote a book about twenty years ago when he made the discovery that all technology has a kind of pollution.

It's not necessarily the air pollution that we think of with industrialization, or the water pollution that we think of from mining and chemical factories. Instead, Ulrich Beck thought of a broader, more generic kind of pollution that attaches to all technology.

This kind of pollution is, in a sense, virtual. It's abstract but it's just as real and a risk of harm; the pollution is equal to risk of harm.

"... the pollution of technology unites people across different economic classes ..."

Ulrich Beck made the fascinating observation that the pollution of technology unites people across different economic classes and, therefore, it's actually a broader philosophy than Marxism[4]. Beck also pointed out that risk of harm unites people across national borders, so it's a broader concept than national solidarity. No matter where you are, no matter who you are, you will be concerned about risk of harm.

Geoethics was developed as a safe harbor concept. The idea behind geoethics is to somehow prioritize the risks and the freedom of a technology, so that everybody buys into the freedom of the technology in exchange for some form of management regime for the risks of technology. The result is that everybody suffers less pollution from technology, but they forego any claim for absolute safety.

On the other hand, technology developers achieve predictability and a green light in certain places at certain times. This predictability enhances both investment and progress.

We are hopeful that year-by-year, if we develop a body of rules for geoethical nanotechnology that it will be able to advance more quickly. Each year at our workshops we've had a different focus, and the focus this year is on nanotechnology for human bodies. To bring living people who are stuck in cryonic biostasis [5] back to health, as well as to bring living people who are stuck in mindfile [6] biostasis back to health.

Within the last hundred years nothing really better exemplifies the ability of people to take something which was said to be impossible and make it possible, and do so quickly in under ten years as with the first lunar landing.

Richard Morgan did a great job of popularizing the concept of BioNano Sleeves in "Altered Carbon" and "Broken Angels" [7]; we have the same vocabulary.

"... self-replicating nanotech would be very useful to extending life"

It was mentioned that Drexler [8] abandoned his position about needing self-replicating nanotech. I am of the opinion that self-replicating nanotech would be very useful to extending life.

The human body creates fifty million cells a second; that's a lot of cells. While it would be possible to carry spare cells with you or make BioNano [9] cells that never degraded, I think self-replicating nanotech would be the easiest way to solve the problem of needing countless millions of cells a day to be reproduced in your body.

In preparation, I tried to analyze the problem. What I came up with was the conclusion that we've already solved the problem of self-replicating nanotech. It's the exact same situation and solution that we have in place for recombinant biotechnology.

Recombinant biotechnology is when the cut portions of DNA from one species are spliced into another rapidly replicating species like bacteria, and relied on the self-replication of those bacteria to produce large quantities of the protein products from the DNA that was spliced in.

It's definitely possible to make without genetic engineering almost anything that you can make with recombinant DNA technology. However, there is a huge increase in practicality when you permit self-replication. In other words, when you use recombinant DNA techniques you can do a lot of things that you could not economically do without it.

The question of my talk is: Why not apply the geoethical rules of recombinant DNA to nanotechnology? This slide talks about the rules for recombinant DNA.


These rules were adopted in the 1970s, and are called the Asilomar Guidelines.[10] Basically what the rules of the Asilomar Guidelines say is that it's okay to do recombinant DNA. It's okay to do self-replicating biotechnology. But you have to make sure that there are some means of containment, and you have to match the risk to the care that you're giving. For example:

These are all the ideas that came out of an international group of biotechnologists on this in the 70s that ended up giving a green light to recombinant DNA techniques to move forward.

Matching the risk

The bottom line of the Asilomar Guidelines is matching the risk. All risks are categorized as being minimal, low, moderate, or high. There are different kinds of containment regimes for different types of risks.

For example: If there is a novel biotype, but that novel biotype is not going to change the ecological behavior of the recipient species, it's not going to increase significantly the pathogenicity [11] of the species, or prevent treatment of any resulting infections, then you're talking about a low risk activity and you only need low risk containment.

I would argue that this sounds very much like the type of BioNano that we would need for cryonic revival, or BioNano for Sleeves so that we could download our cyberconscious [12] mindfiles, living happily in Second Life [13], into some BioNano sleeve.

"... self-replicating nano for cryonics is basically a low risk activity ..."

I would argue that the Sleeve is not going to change the ecological behavior of the recipient species. Or if you use self-replicating nano to bring a vitrified body back to full health, that's not going to change the ecological behavior of that previously vitrified body. It's not going to increase its pathogenicity. So I would argue that self-replicating nano for cryonics is basically a low risk activity under Asilomar Guidelines.

Some people may disagree and actually think that only minimal risk is required. By the way, it is kind of interesting that when we're talking about the recombinant DNA techniques, we actually are really in the nano scale of activities. A typical virus that might be used in recombinant DNA is going to be only 30 to 300 nanometers in length.

The only real difference between nano and recombinant DNA is that in one case we're sort of assembling every single molecule, every single atom in the molecule from scratch. In the case of recombinant DNA, we're assembling some naturally preassembled atoms and molecules into larger assemblies. It's not such a big difference that nanotechnology should not be covered under the Asilomar rules.

Finally, some people might think: Well, you know, self-replicating nano, this is getting you into the regime of moderate or high risk. The Asilomar Guidelines define moderate risk: If there's a significant risk for pathogenicity or ecological disruption; and they define high risk: If there's a serious biohazard to the laboratory personnel or to the public.

Moderate and high risk

There's no doubt that some self-replicating nanotechnology activities would be moderate risk, and some would be high risk. Those should be governed by the moderate and high risk rules of the Asilomar regime. However, if something is not moderate or high level risk, such as self-replicating nanotech for cryonic purposes, then it could be governed under a low risk regime.


My next chart takes a look at what some of the specifics would be. Asilomar Guidance relevant to Cryo-Bio Nano. Asilomar Guidance relevant to Cryo-Bio Nano would basically be: Unless the organism made a dangerous product, it could be constructed and propagated with the safest vector hosts available in low risk containment facilities.

That's bioethics speak for saying NanoBio can be done in a low risk containment facility. Just a type of facility described in the book "The First Immortal."[14]

My next slide points out more reasons why cryo and bio self-replicating nanotech are like the Asilomar low risk examples.

First of all, self-replicating nano is just a mechanical analog of recombinant DNA.

Self replicating nanotech

Second it's going into a human body, so it's not intended to be a deadly toxin. In fact, it would be illogical for that kind of Cryo-Bio Nanotech to be toxic. That's another reason it's low risk.

Third, while NanoBio is a novel biotype, it's not something that occurs regularly in nature. But it doesn't change the ecology of the world if it's designed to go into a human body. It doesn't increase pathogenicity, so those are more reasons it should be considered low risk.

On the other hand, I would say that NanoBio for cryonics is not minimum risk because it is an unnatural replication method. Under the Asilomar Guidelines minimum risk is reserved for natural eukaryotic [15] type of methods.

Finally, it's not moderate or high risk because there's no high potential for ecological harm or biohazard.

You get there by logically comparing NanoBio to other things that Asilomar says are low risk, or you get there by excluding everything that Asilomar says is moderate, high risk, or minimum risk. Either way you go, NanoBio for cryonics and for NanoBio sleeves is what Asilomar calls a low risk activity.


So what geoethics is needed for a low risk, self-replicating Cryo-Bio Nanobot?

First, in global agreement, the risk needs to be low. That can occur through scientific meetings. You don't actually need to have an intergovernmental treaty for that. We're going on twenty-five years for recombinant DNA. These issues have been managed very well just in scientific meetings.

Secondly, there needs to be global sharing in the benefits. Once you get government secrecy, there's going to be a lack of public sharing in the benefits, but possibly a big, serious public sharing of the harm.

"Commercial endeavor is probably the best way to ensure that there is a global sharing in the benefits..."

Commercial endeavor is probably the best way to ensure that there is a global sharing in the benefits, because commercial endeavors will want to increase revenues, and far more people benefit from the Cryo-Bio Nanotech.

Finally, as well as Doug Mulhall pointed out very well in his article, there needs to be some kind of third party audit of the containment and limitations. This is exactly the same as third party certifications that go on for recombinant DNA facilities. It's just a standard part of good practices for recombinant DNA, and it would be a standard part of good practices for NanoBio use for cryonic revival.


Coming to the conclusion here in terms of going forward, I think it's okay for us to start replicating ourselves with Cryo-Bio Nano. Cryonic revival and sleeve based nanotech falls under the very same recombinant DNA regime that's existed for over twenty-five years with the Asilomar regime. It's exactly the same issues in many instances, reflected by exactly the same atomic molecular substrate.

This means that we actually have right now a green light to go forward with experiments in BioNano for cryonic revival. We don't have to wait for some new treaty or anything. It means that we can now geoethically begin remaking ourselves. We just need people in suspended animation to help us lead the way.

Flying nanobots

I'll end with a tongue-in-cheek graphic. Let's just make sure that our Cryo-Bio Nanobots don't fly. Because if we did, we might end up with people freaked out over Michael Creighton for the "Prey"[16] scenario.

Thanks for being my partners in helping move us to a better tomorrow; I really appreciate it.

[1] Cryonic Enabling Technologies And The Bioweapons Risk
August 26, 2010 2:28PM EST

[2] InterrRep – Proposed organization, the "International Self--Replicating Technology Organization. Via treaty, to make this organization be exclusive, give it exclusive worldwide rights to self-replicator production rights."
http://www.terasemjournals.org/GNJournal/GN0401/mulhall3.html August 26, 2010 2:47PM EST

[3] Ulrich Beck – professor of sociology at Munich's Ludwig-Maximilian University and the London School of Economics, and author of World at Risk.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/ulrichbeck August 26, 2010 2:52PM EST

[4] Marxismn. (1887): the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx; esp.: a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition . Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster, Incorporated, 2005: 762.

[5] Biostatis – 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 26, 2010 12:31PM EST

[6] Mindfile - digitally stored reflections of consciousness.
http://www.terasemjournals.org/GNJournal/GN0302/mr2.html August 26, 2010 3:05PM EST

[7] Richard K. Morgan – (born 1965) is a British science fiction author.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Morgan_(author) August 26, 2010 3:10PM EST

Altered Carbon - (2002) is a hardboiled science fiction novel by Richard K. Morgan. Set some five hundred years in the future in a universe in which the United Nations Protectorate oversees a number of extra-solar planets settled by human beings, it features protagonist Takeshi Kovacs.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altered_Carbon August 26, 2010 3:13PM EST

Broken Angels - a military science fiction novel by Richard Morgan. It is the sequel to Altered Carbon, and is followed by Woken Furies.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_Angels August 26, 2010 3:16PM EST

[8] K. Eric Drexler, Ph.D. – a researcher and author whose work focuses on advanced nanotechnologies and directions for current research. His 1981 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences established fundamental principles of molecular design, protein engineering, and productive nanosystems.
http://e-drexler.com/p/idx04/00/0404drexlerBioCV.html August 26, 2010 3:20PM EST

[9] BioNano – Biomolecular Nanotechnology (Bionanotech). Use of biomolecules as replicators, assemblers, or components for molecular nanotechnology; any molecular nanotechnology based on such biomolecules or biotech.
http://www.orionsarm.com/eg/b/Bi.html August 9, 2007 10:43AM EST

[10] Asilomar Guidelines – During February 1975, at a conference center Asilomar State Beach, a group of around 140 professionals (primarily biologists, but also including lawyers and physicians) participated in the conference to draw up voluntary guidelines to ensure the safety of recombinant DNA technology.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asilomar_Conference_on_Recombinant_DNA August 26, 2010 3:30PM EST

[11] Cyberconscious – Consciousness that will emerge from software meeting an objective definition of life.
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/rothblatt20100625/ August 26, 2010 3:30PM EST

[12] Second Life – Second Life is a free 3D virtual world where users can socialize, connect and create using free voice and text chat.
http://secondlife.com/ August 26, 2010 3:40PM EST

[13] Pathogenicity – pathogenic – adj. 1. Having the capability to cause disease. 2. Producing disease. 3. Relating to pathogenesis.
The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary Second Edition. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004: 607.

[14] The First Immortal - a shockingly believable account of a future in which people live essentially forever, thanks to cryonics (freezing one's body) and nanotechnology.
http://www.memecentral.com/mu/mu0017.htm August 26, 2010 3:50PM EST

[15] Eukaryotic – eukaryote – n. A single-celled or multicellular organism whose cells contain a distinct membrane-bound nucleus.
The American Heritage Stedman's Medical Dictionary Second Edition. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004: 281.

[16] Prey - a novel by Michael Crichton based on a nano-robotic threat to human-kind, first published in hardcover in November 2002 and as a paperback in November 2003 by HarperCollins. Like Jurassic Park, the novel serves as a cautionary tale about developments in science and technology; in this case, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prey_(novel) August 26, 2010 3:58PM EST

Dr. Martine Rothblatt

Martine Rothblatt, J.D., MBA, Ph.D., started the satellite vehicle tracking and satellite radio industries and is the Chairman of United Therapeutics, a biotechnology company headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland. Dr. Rothblatt is also the President of Terasem Movement, Inc. and has authored several books, including The Apartheid of Sex, Two Stars for Peace, Unzipped Genes, and Your Life or Mine.

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