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I would be willing to put myself $7 million in debt in order to survive. Yeah, it would be hard to work off, but it would still be worth it … multiply that $7 million by some probability of cryonics working – which I think is better than 5% – and the expected value is big enough that I’m happy to pay the life insurance that funds my cryonics.

Dr Anders Sandberg

Joseph Stalin had a life-extension program dedicated to making himself immortal. What if he had succeeded?

According to our last guest, Bryan Caplan, there’s an 80% chance that Stalin would still be ruling Russia today. Today’s guest disagrees.

Like Stalin he has eyes for his own immortality – including an insurance plan that will cover the cost of cryogenically freezing himself after he dies – and thinks the technology to achieve it might be around the corner.

Fortunately for humanity though, that guest is probably one of the nicest people on the planet: Dr Anders Sandberg of Oxford University.

The potential availability of technology to delay or even stop ageing means this disagreement matters, so he has been trying to model what would really happen if both the very best and the very worst people in the world could live forever – among many other questions.

Anders, who studies low-probability high-stakes risks and the impact of technological change at the Future of Humanity Institute, is the first guest to appear twice on the 80,000 Hours Podcast and might just be the most interesting academic at Oxford.

His research interests include more or less everything, and bucking the academic trend towards intense specialization has earned him a devoted fan base.

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Last time we asked him why we don’t see aliens, and how to most efficiently colonise the universe. In today’s episode we ask about Anders’ other recent papers, including:

  • Is it worth the money to freeze your body after death in the hope of future revival, like Anders has done?
  • How much is our perception of the risk of nuclear war biased by the fact that we wouldn’t be alive to think about it had one happened?
  • If biomedical research lets us slow down ageing would culture stagnate under the crushing weight of centenarians?
  • What long-shot drugs can people take in their 70s to stave off death?
  • Can science extend human (waking) life by cutting our need to sleep?
  • How bad would it be if a solar flare took down the electricity grid? Could it happen?
  • If you’re a scientist and you discover something exciting but dangerous, when should you keep it a secret and when should you share it?
  • Will lifelike robots make us more inclined to dehumanise one another?

The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced by Keiran Harris.


When you start thinking about life extension, it has one obvious implication. It’s actually a very good way of saving quality adjusted life years, because you’re directly trying to save life years. Now, cryonics might be a relatively inefficient way of doing that. That’s probably better from a perspective of preserving your own personal identity.

But given that 100,000 people die each day of age related conditions, that seems to suggest that actually quite a lot of value at stake, so the scope of aging as a threat is tremendously important. It’s also a somewhat neglected area, because for a long time, people just assumed that you can’t do anything about aging, it’s a law of nature. Now we’re starting to understand the science behind aging and actually, it can be modified. Actually, there are ways of doing it.

70 years of nuclear peace means that, well, maybe the world is really safe. Maybe actually political decision makers are very safe and safeguards are really good, or it might just be that we’re one of the few planets where nuclear weapons exist that has been really, really lucky and have some surviving observers. So my paper’s about the question, “Can we tell whether we live in a safe world or a risky world?

If you find something that is very preserved in evolution, you should suspect it’s important, even if you don’t understand what’s going on. Sleep seems to be one of these things. It seems that actually being unconscious, even though predators might get you while you are asleep, is still worth having. We don’t really know why we sleep. It seems that messing with it, removing it might actually be a very bad idea.

At the same time, there seem to be a high degree of value in improving sleep. At the very least, we should make sure that we can sleep well, because it affects our function and health tremendously. People who sleep too much and too little have much higher mortality.

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About the show

The 80,000 Hours Podcast features unusually in-depth conversations about the world's most pressing problems and how you can use your career to solve them. We invite guests pursuing a wide range of career paths — from academics and activists to entrepreneurs and policymakers — to analyse the case for and against working on different issues and which approaches are best for solving them.

The 80,000 Hours Podcast is produced and edited by Keiran Harris. Get in touch with feedback or guest suggestions by emailing [email protected].

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