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Interview with Shannon Vyff
by Jonathan Despres. Go to the Interviews.
Tell us about yourself. What is your background, and what current projects are you involved in?
I'm a children's author. I wrote "21st Century Kids" in 07 (http://www.amazon.com/21st-Century-Kids-Shannon-Vyff/dp/1886057001), a transhumanist adventure story to get kids interested in what scientists see as possible now. I do sprinkle a bit of human rights issues, justice and faith in as well. I have three children and teach them outside of their school, by giving them a lot of travel and exposing them to new thoughts with documentaries and taking them to speeches. I'm writing more books for children and want to focus on some of the drama that does not usually get talked about, such as divorce. I generally work cryonics and ending aging into my stories, both things that I support right now for human life extension in addition to eating a calorie restricted diet. I really got into extreme life extension after reading about healthy diets in order to lose my pregnancy fat. I just learned more about what people are working on in the world, and wanted to help teach that to my children and other children. I'm a k-2nd grade teacher and on the Children's Programming Committee at my church. I speak to classrooms about the futurist issues in my book. Hearing kid's views on these issues is a lot of fun! Kids ask the best questions and really get excited about things they can help bring about when they grow up. You can read more about me on the net, such as the website provided at the end of the interview.
What are your goals for the next decade?
Focus on raising my children, writing more and continuing to spread awareness about futurist issues, so important to helping us achieve those goals and help better the world now. In ten years I'll hope not to be a grandma, I'll be 42--and my mother became a grandmother at age 41.... So my goal? To be a grandma at say 50. In a decade I hope to have taught a lot of children through my own outreach--as well as inspire others to educate children. If you are around in 10 years, then look me up and I'll give the 'decade later' follow up!
When do you think we will achieve real life extension?
We have it now with Calorie Restriction, learn more at the CR society site. If you mean ending aging, I think that may come a few generations too late for me. I do think it is possible that if enough resources are put into working on ending aging, that it could come sooner--that is why I respect all the efforts of individual such as Dr. Aubrey de Grey that bring awareness to this and raise funds for the Methuselah Foundation. I am a '300 member' of the Mprize. My daughter Avianna raised three thousand dollars going door to door to for the Methuselah Foundation. She gave a convincing speech when she was given an award for her efforts. She spoke about how we need more time to help all the world's poor--she sees her efforts as maybe not only helping her, or her own children--but helping people she does notceven know. You can see a speech she gave at age 10 on the 06 Alcor Conference DVD, before Dr. Aubrey de Grey's speech.
Do you believe in Cryonics and when do you think it will succeed?
No, I do not believe in cryonics. I think it has a very low chance of working, furthermore it is highly unlikely that I will die in a way that I can be well preserved. I'm signed as a cryonics member for the slight chance that it will work and I can give back more to society in the future. Many things could cause humans to not continue their advancements in technology, and we have a long ways to go in 'humanity' as a species. I will do what I can while I'm alive with the resources that I have, it is my goal to give many times more to non-profits such as Save the Children, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union, Doctors Without Borders, Area Capital Food Bank, La Leche Leauge, Safe Place, The Unitarian Universalist Church and more. At the rate I'm giving, if I'm able to continue to do so the next two decades I will have given twice as much as I'm using for my cryonics preservation. I assume I'll live a lot longer however that two decades hopefully, and I may even someday be at a better societal level than the very middle class one I'm in now. In either of those events I'll be able to contribute a lot more to non-profits and society in general. If cryonics works for me--then I'll try to find ways to help then.
Why isn't the science of cryonics progressing at a rate commensurate to other sciences?
Since no one has successfully yet revived an entire mammal, vs individual organs. I think there would be more interest if a whole mammal has been stored at cryogenic temperatures than revived. We have a way to go in science before the people currently preserved could be rejuvenated, or cured of whatever it was that killed them. Cryonics does not get as much research because it is not 'proven', it is an ongoing experiment--a very long one. Some benefits of the research into better suspensions for patients, helps the research of organ transplant technology--if we can find ways to preserve organs such as hearts and kidneys for much longer times, such as at cryogenic temperatures--then many more lives could be saved now. Beyond the ways cryonics helps living patients now, people also have to think that storing our loved ones who have passed away according to our modern standards, is a healthy alternative to buying or burning people. Cryonics is more 'green', in that it is less polluting, and very little electricity is used to make the liquid nitrogen that keeps patients cold. People now must envision a future that has stabilized population, such as some countries in Europe have now done with education and birth control. It must be seen that the people preserved from now, would have a place hundreds of years in the future when they would be reanimated. I personally think the future would not only have an interest, but there would be family members that have passed down the tradition of cryonics-who would be wanting to help out their lineage. I think over time cryonics will become more accepted in general society, I mean at about 50 years old now it is still relatively a new idea in the scheme of humanity. As the research into preservation advances, more people will become interested and will support cryonics--it is poised for a lot of growth in the coming decades.
Do you believe in God?
Which God? Sorry, as a UU I teach the world's religions to kids--what they believe, how they came to believe it, the wisdom from the religions and how it affects our society. I see God as the 'highest ideals of consciousness' or 'what it is that we do not know' or 'facts as revealed by the scientific process'. I was a devout Presbyterian as a child and believed that since I'd lived at age 4 1/2 after a surgery where my heart stopped during an abdominal surgery--that God saved me, that I had a purpose in life. In my teens when I studied the history of the bible by traveling to Israel I started to question some of the historical veracity of the Bible. I also realized that when my heart had stopped, a defibrillator had gotten it to start beating again. I knew that if the same thing had happened simply 70 years earlier--I would have been dead, modern technology had kept me alive. When I was 21, I became pregnant with my first child, because of my surgical history I was told that it would be a high risk pregnancy. Since I'd always been into science fiction while growing, I'd read about cryonics--I remember that I saw a news show on Alcor in my late teens and I started to research cryonics. I found out that the science behind it was much more advanced than I had thought, and there was a slight chance that it could work. So at 21 it was my plan that if something happened to me, that I'd be preserved so I could someday see what my child became. I thought that if by human hand or the hand of a high power, that if it was meant to be, it would be. Since then I learned more, had more children and greatly expanded my world view as to how I can give back on a more global level even with my lower means. People like Bill and Melinda Gates give me hope as to how they parent, and how they use there money for great good--if I ever acquired wealth on that level, I would act in a similar way. They save the most lives they can with their money by focusing on simple health care and vaccinations in third world countries, they also help with education here in America and abroad. For now I give 10% of my income to non-profits, and will increase if I am someday able. As I told Barbara Walters in an 06 interview, "if cryonics works or is 'allowed to work' then people can do more good for their God or their beliefs."
What will be the most central, important tool in molecular manufacturing? And why?
The tools to make nano-minting machines! I use those in my book "21st Century Kids", to create Harry Potter like magic in the future. Of course the uses to society now from nano-tech are already becoming invaluable--in stronger tires for cars, stronger/safer/lighter materials for vehicles. I'm also looking forward to its uses in medicine, small machines that can attack bacteria or viruses, even cancer.
Which path should we take to acquire immortalism; nanomedicine, biogerontology or something else?
I think it will be a combination, true immortalism is much more difficult than just ending aging. There would have to be brain backups in case of accidents to a body, alternate biological bodies that are grown, or robot bodies with all the normal human senses (plus some enhancements!). Life can be ended on Earth by something completely beyond the control of Earthlings such as a gamma ray burst. We'd really have to have brain backups not only on Earth, but on other planets--if we want our consciousness to be on hand for re-animation in the event of a catastrophic accident. Right now I see Earth as a life boat, to learn more check out the Life Boat Foundation. I like to see what children think of that concept, but Earth does harbor all life as we know it--we must protect it, and try to expand into space.
What first attracted you to the idea of physical immortality?
I love life and all the joys of being human--the sorrow, the triumph. One thing I've always come back to when thinking of extreme life extension, is my fascination with history as a child. I loved all epochs and cultures--the mere fact that they lived these vastly different lives. Through my introduction to science fiction while I was very young, I started to wonder what humanity's future really will be like, this became a hobby of mine as a young woman-learning everything I can about the art and science of 'futurism'. If I was able to live a vastly extended life I'd get to see what really happens! (I'm sure it will be quite different than what any of us futurists say now ;-) )
What can a company do to become successful in the life extension business?
Well developing a product proven to extend life in some way, to sell--would be a good start. The Methuselah Foundation stimulates research by offering multi-million dollar cash prizes to scientists who win by demonstrating they've reduced or ended aging. It is modeled after the X-prize which helped boost the private space travel industry. Now, many religions already are successful in what they see as the life extension business, and I think all of us talking about physical life extension now can include religions. We have it within our reach to end aging and people who want to do more good for their faith can have more time to do it--there will always still be death, so religions can keep their messages. The religions have been quite successful in the life extension business, some see transhumanism as a faith that promises eternal life in a heaven like setting that we have created ourselves. I would like to see more religions adopt the transhumanist views, that we already are controlling our evolution in a sentient way and that we can use this to our advantage in the future. I can see ways that this can be adopted into just about any religious belief--this could help our own movement of ending aging, developing A.I., nano-minting--sooner.
How handy would an indefinite lifespan be?
Of course, more time to learn--one can become a specialty in many subjects that currently take a lifetime to learn. One can explore more of the Earth, make many more friends and give back to society. If it is your predilection you could help with colonizing space someday, or simply work on ways to extend life on Earth. At some point we may even try to save species on this planet from the expansion of our sun. Farther out we have the collapse of our Universe to worry about, so I'm sure we'll always have problems to be working on and things to discover. There may be something beyond our Universe, we may be able to discover other life--time travel--alternate universes--there are many possibilities.
What would be the jobs of the future?
Medicine, Technology, Art, Education, Politics, Law, Science, many of the same that we have now. I'm sure that we'll evolve into a different form of currency, possibly credits for what we are contributing--I had fun designing such a society in '21st Century Kids'. We'll of course have many that we could not fathom of now.
What do you think of the Paradise Engineering idea?
Of course I support humans taking hold of their evolution, to end suffering. I had a wonderful time reading over their site, so thank you. That is the amazing thing about the past decade of the internet being born--there is a new consciousness emerging as people realize what a short time they've been around, just 30 seconds in a 24 hour clock representing all the time of Earth's life. Now anyone interested in changing their own life, or teaching their family and loved ones--can look up information on the net and read what other people have to say about these things, such as this interview ;-).
What do you think about the singularity, when will it happen?
The idea of our creating artificial general intelligence that can then exponentially evolve our technology, our science --and usher in an age where humans have evolved into a race that could only be described in intelligence as what our difference now between us and a mouse is--this idea has been around for a while, and the date it will occur keeps getting pushed back--many believe it will happen in the next 50 years, I think that it may take hundreds or even thousands of years. We have a long way to evolve, and change occurs slowly throughout all the world's countries. Last night I read Richard Dawkins letter to his 10 year old daughter, to my 11 year old, 9 year old and 6 year old. The generations of traditions and faiths passed on by different cultures, are important and must be incorporated into the new age, we have a lot of work ahead of us.
What's the future of "information technology" for you?
We'll be able soon to have live video while talking with others--already through you-tube you can look up chemical demonstrations of the reduction of elements, or pictures from Hubble space telescope, or deep sea creatures--to your children. Those were all videos we've shown at bed-time in the last week. I think the internet will evolve into more video, more information--and that it will be come more accessible to all--right now there is a vast gap in knowledge between those who have the net, and those who do not.
What would be the great inventions/ideas of the future?
Nanotechnology, nanominting--building food, objects, furniture and such from inexpensive materials. Free energy, or vastly more inexpensive such as fusion energy. This is also vital since we are running out of coal and oil. There are concerns still with the safety of nuclear, even though it pollutes less than coal. We don't yet get nearly enough from wind or solar. Of course also being able to end aging, and create artificial intelligence with processing powers we can not comprehend--will be necessary to usher in some of these changes.
What should we do to improve/clean our ecology?
We need to clean pollution from our oceans, soils and air--this is a large and pressing challenge. We've known that we must reduce our output of pollution for decades, but still have not done much to curb it. Teaching children about the problems so they can be aware as adults, it seems more natural to children to take care of their little blue home in space. Having corporations be accountable for their pollution, passing laws that would be upheld by all the world's nations, giving more money to cleaning up pollution that is already out there--these are all needed.
Do you think molecular manufacturing (or anything else) could clean up pollution on earth and in space? If so, when and how?
Yes. I guess I look at how we have advanced over the past 100 years--not even having had phones a 100 years before, or TV, the net being released to the world only a decade ago---I think if we keep advancing and don't get set back by a major catastrophe, then we will be able to solve many of the problems that we've created in our ignorance. The future has much potential, and I hope to be able to see it through cryonics.
You favorite movie? (or you could ask it this way) What do you think the best movie ever created is?
E.T.! I'm influenced by many movies, and at particular times in my life. Documentaries, Oliver Stone movies, Star Wars, Star Trek, Holocaust movies such as Schindler's List and Anne Frank, Ghandi, Joan of Arc, and hey I liked Yentl, Natural Born Killers, The Breakfast Club, Princess Bride-- just so many movies I've loved and I'll have new ones to love over the coming years.
What is your religion?
Your political view?
What is your web page?
I spend a lot of time at the ImmInst forums, and you can always reach me at my email shannonvyff _at_ yahoo dot com.
Your contact information?
Email is best, or PM at ImmInst.
When will you write another science fiction book?
Hopefully within the next two years.
What topics will it include?
Transhumanism, Cryonics, Ethics --one book is set in the 'now', another I'm working on is a far and very alien future from the one I portrayed in "21st Century Kids".
Do you know a good person that I should interview?
My husband, who is working on his Ph.D. in technical communication. He has a lot of knowledge in history, rhetoric and classic literature--now he is entering the field of how to build and shape community on the internet. Other transhumanists, you can easily find on the net and ask. :-) I'm sure you've asked Aubrey, Natasha and Max--Bruce Klein, Ben Best....