Interview with Michael Vassar

by Jonathan Despres. Go to the Interviews.

Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and what current projects are you involved in?

I try to make money through business and consulting projects and do networking, fund raising and organizing for the Singularity Institute for free.

What are your goals for the next decade?

Make money to fund existential risk reduction projects. Find potential Friendly AI developers.

When do you think will we achieve real life extension?

Calorie Restriction or intermittent fasting are already real life extension. Resveratrol may also work. Maybe a careful search of exotic diet spaces can give us other easier options with similar magnitude effects. Wearing biomonitors and finding the best local doctors based on track record are also worth a few years.

Your vision of the future?

Vision? It's invisible. All the action taking place on the nanoscale. In all probability there's also nothing sentient to see it.

Do you believe in Cryonics and when will it suceed?

Cryonics is more likely than not to save the information required to reconstruct a person. It's not obviously much less than 50% likely given adequate information that people will actually be restored if civilization survives, which isn't that much less than 50% likely. Maybe 10% aggregate probability. Resuscitation will probably wait till the singularity.

What kind of jobs you did when you were younger and what is the important things you learned about it?

I worked in labs doing biochemistry, microbiology, plant genetics, and soft lithography. Also waiting tables, teaching in inner city schools in the US, Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, and actuarial work. Currently a music licensing start-up, which has been the most educational of all, but all have taught me more than I have time to share.

Why isn't the science of cryonics progressing at a rate commensurate to other sciences?

I think that most sciences progress a bit slowly compared to 40 years ago. Not all, just most. Cryonics is almost unfunded, which hurts it less than people might imagine.

Do you believe in a God?

I believe that only specific precise things are logically possible and I suspect all logically possible things exist. This fact could be called god and very probably contains many many things that you would call god if you met them.

What extropian values do you prefer the most and why?

I hate words like Transhumanist and Extropian. Ideology shouldn't be needed as an excuse to think well and honestly.

What do you think we should do to advance the quality of life of everybody?

Where to start? OK, for something really simple, end agricultural subsidies and drop trade barriers. Oh, and provide universal free cryonic suspension.

Do you see a future for biology? (considering bionics, ai, mind uploading, robotics)

Only as art.

The man or the woman that is a model for you? Why?

Leo Szilard because of his breadth and ethical focus.

What do you think of last minute cases in cryonics?

May as well try.

The stuff you are proud in your life?

My work for SIAI, my aesthetics, my marriage.

The stuff you are not proud in your life?

My non-billionaire status.

What would you love to accomplish before you die?

Save the light cone.

What is your greatest book ever? Why and when?

Ironically, The Picture of Dorian Grey is pretty great. Hitchhiker's Guide is my favorite SF followed by the first half of The Diamond Age. I also really love Madame Bovary, The Tale of Genji, and The Odyssey.

What are the languages of the universe for you?

When people talk precisely they call it math.

Is competition good in cryonics?

Competition lowers price, which is good, and explores more marketing strategies, which is VERY good, but it dilutes scientific talent. Still a net gain.

Imagine yourself as a space navigator and you discover a smaller, less advanced civilization on a planet, what would you do with them?

That sounds like fantasy to me. More realistically, what should we do with hunter gatherers. I wish I knew. Freeze them when they die?

What do you think biological simulations will do to cryonics, aging or nanotechnology?

Help accelerate progress but less than expected.

What kind of mathematics is used in aging, cryonics & nanomedicine?

Statistics above all else.

What will be the best (central), most important tool in molecular manufacturing? And why ?

Good management. It always is in large projects and its very rare.

Which path should we take for immortalism, nanomedicine or biogerontology or something else?

I think right now a focus on public health gives the best bang for the buck.

What first attracted you to the idea of physical immortality?

It didn't occur to me till I was an adult that a significant fraction of people might really want to die.

What a company can do to become sucessful in the life extension business?

I'd guess they should market to the rich at first like most new products. Instinctively, the truly rich intuit that they CAN take it with them.

How handy an indefinite lifespan would be?

Not handy but very intrinsically valuable.

What would be the jobs of the future?

How distant? The future stretches much longer than the period with jobs. A few centuries ago jobs weren't normal at all.

What do you think of the Paradise Engineering idea?

Very unambitious and unimaginative, but unusually (though imperfectly) honest and very well intentioned.

What do you think about the singularity, when will it happen?

It's the most important thing ever, could save us or kill us, and will probably happen too soon to adequately prepare.

What's the future of "information technology" for you?

I have essays on that online if you search.

What would be the great inventions/ideas of the future?

Robust life extension tops the list unless intelligence enhancement counts. More than mild intelligence enhancement tops the list without equivocations.

What should we do to improve/clean our ecology?

Stop subsidizing some economic activities, tax pollution to maximize revenues.

Do you think molecular manufacturing (or anything else) could clean up pollution on earth and in space? If so, when and how?

Trivially, but it creates other problems.

Your best movie ever is?

Best sf? Primer. Best ever? Dr Strangelove and Casablanca deserve their reputations. Maybe A Long Day's Journey Into Night or Strangers on a Train deserve mention. Recently? American Beauty. Comedy? Little Shop of Horrors. Atonement too.

Your religion is?

To try to be honest with myself.

I like some Hindu Aesthetics VERY much but other parts are jarring and almost horrifying.

Your political view?

See above.

Your web page is?

I generally recommend www.overcomingbias.com

Your contact information?

michaelaruna at yahoo dot com

Your favorite song, and your favorite style of music are ?

Comfortably Numb. Varied styles.

What should I do with my life?

Really truly try to live well. Also, tithe to a single organization you carefully choose to maximize human survival (SIAI or FHI) human welfare (Givewell)or some particular value of yours and then don't feel guilty as you are doing far more than your share.

Do you know a good person that I should interview?

Try George Dvorsky