Interview with Randal Koene, Scientific Advisor at Blockchain-based Platform Eternal Trusts

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by Polina Chernykh · 20 min read
Interview with Randal Koene, Scientific Advisor at Blockchain-based Platform Eternal Trusts
Photo: Eternal Trusts

Randal Koene, a Dutch neuroscientist and neuroengineer, talked to Coinspeaker about Eternal Trusts, the world’s first blockchain project that promises to turn your dreams into reality.

Have you ever dreamt how the world will look like in the future? The first things that come to mind are teleportation, flying cars, time travels, and space flights to other planets and galaxies. Just imagine living in a society where immortality and everlasting life is not some kind of fantasy, but a common reality. And with the constant development of science, we’re now getting closer to a future where innovative technologies such as cryocameras are as habitual as a heart transplantation.

Eternal Trusts is the new blockchain platform that will let people to acquire innovative products and services that are not yet available. This is the first platform for deferred purchases that allows users to program future transactions using smart contracts technology. Commercial agreements concluded via blockchain technology can exist for any period of time, so once the service is possible, the contract will be completed, regardless of when the service will appear.

We have talked with the Dutch neuroscientist, neuroengineer and scientific advisor at Eternal Trusts, Randal A. Koene, about the idea of this promising project.

Coinspeaker: “The Eternal Trusts project guarantees fulfillment of even the most fantastic ideas, deferred in time for decades or even hundreds of years. Please tell us about the inspiration behind the project as well as how one can fulfill dreams that will only reach fruition years into the future?”

Randal Koene: “Yes, sure. It’s really a very simple idea, but one that’s difficult to execute. I think it’s crucial to realize just how important this is, as one component of a full procedure that enables someone to undergo life extension and to preserve themselves for the future. I’m kind of surprised this hasn’t been implemented before now, actually.

In general, the idea is that you can have a legal trust that is not just a single document to fulfill what somebody wants to have done, but an automated process that continues to evolve over time. It is a very interesting idea and I see many different applications for it. I think that blockchains are a mechanism that makes this possible now, but it’s a particularly useful idea in instances where a client who is trying to establish a trust is unable to make decisions in the future.

This might be, because the client is in biostasis or in a coma, or it could be that the client is cryopreserved or in some other form of storage in the hope of revival. These are specific problems that are encountered when people contemplate methods of life extension and having access to those methods today.

In my particular field, this also involves brain preservation; so, people may decide they want to have their brain preserved in the hope that in the future they can be revived, either by having their mind uploaded into an artificial brain, or even somehow having that preserved brain restored back to normal. The crucial problem for all of these people is, of course, that it’s impossible to specify in advance, especially at the current moment, what that whole process towards revival would require. We simply don’t possess all of the technology; not only that, we don’t even have the knowledge. We don’t really know exactly which pieces of the puzzle need to be developed and put together for that to happen.

We can say that preserving biological tissue or preserving content of the brain is essential if you want to have even an iota of a chance at extending life and being revived, at this point in time, but we don’t really know what else you need beyond that. So there is a plethora of future technologies that are needed to have even a small chance, something more than a zero percent chance, of being revived. And it’s not just that there are many technologies that still need to be developed, it’s also that there are choices that will need to be made. There will be a whole field of technological development and there will be a specific route through that labyrinth that takes you to the optimum restoration or revival that you, as a client, as a patient, are looking for.

So who’s making those decisions? How are those decisions made? Currently, when someone is put in some state of preservation, say, a cryopatient who is stored at a facility like Alcor, that person tries to specify as much as they can in a document or a contract. However, that document isn’t able to evolve in a very dynamic way as time goes by, so how do we know exactly what the outcome is going be for that patient?

Well, with this new approach you take the security that blockchain provides for decentralized contracts and you tie that together with what Eternal Trusts is aiming to do in the field of smart algorithms designed to identify and select applicable future technologies. That gives you a process that has the general aim to achieve the best possible outcome for the client, carrying on the process of identifying and purchasing solutions over time. This isn’t a contract that is simply made at one point in time and written in stone, instead it is one that can evolve intelligently as you move forward. I think that’s the gist of it.”

Coinspeaker: “Your specialisation is neuroengineering, neurobiology and biomaterial storage technologies. How relevant are these fields of work nowadays? Is this project needed, relevant, viable, does it have a bright future ahead?”

Randal Koene: “The fields I’m working on are really just at the initial stages and they are only beginning to evolve in their own right. None of them are close to maturity, but the promise is clearly there. For example, in the past few weeks, the successful development of what’s called aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation has greatly improved the ability to store brains and neural tissue without the loss of relevant information. In a parallel effort, there’s a team at the University of Southern California that just published their results testinga neural prosthesis that demonstrates memory repair in patients.

Those two developments, memory repair through neural prosthesis and aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation, are closely related, because building a neural prosthesis is the first step towards reconstructing a whole brain when it is dysfunctional or when it has been cryopreserved. This is an example of how things are developing in my fields. We are still very many years away from being able to successfully apply technologies such as those and many others that would cure disease or revive patients. We know that these scientific and technological developments are scientifically possible, and given the current trends in economy, science and infrastructure, it seems very likely that they will ultimately come to fruition. However, because of the unavoidable timeline that’s involved, it means that the fruits of these developments will only be available to future generations, unless of course, there’s a way at this point in time to await their completion and to then take advantage of them. The possibility that there is such a path is where Eternal Trusts come in.”

Coinspeaker: “Like you said, we don’t really know what pieces of the puzzle will be needed in the future, but we do know that your field of study is definitely an integral part of this puzzle that will unfold in the future?”

Randal Koene: “Yes, there is no doubt that the field I’m working in is definitely involved in all of those puzzle pieces that are required. Where your brain is involved, that would certainly be my area of expertise, and these are all things that we’re trying to develop and map out today, but of course we don’t yet know everything we’ll need. We can only see ahead a certain number of years in terms of the projects that we’re working on. We can’t see ahead all the way through to the end because it’s like walking into a fog where you can see an arm’s length ahead of you — and as soon as you’ve made the next step, then you can see forward again, another bit of the way. This is how science works, this is how engineering works: you can’t plan everything perfectly from the beginning, even if you know what you’re doing is technically possible, you still have to find your way there.

Coinspeaker: “Your position in the project is that of an advisor. Please share what was it that sold you on the project?”

Randal Koene: “Actually, there’s one main thing that sold me on the project, and that’s the obvious deep understanding of the technical and procedural problems by the team. The team that’s headed by CEO Kirill Silvestrov has clearly done their homework. They’ve investigated the problem of this gap between the situation we have now and the one we hope will exist in the future. They have also looked at a broad spectrum of science and technology and have reached out to experts for advice. In fact, one of our own researchers at the non-profit organisation that I run, Ilya Sapranidi, is the chief business developer that’s responsible for dealing with medical contractors at Eternal Trusts, so I know they’re going to do a good job. I know that the team is serious about what they’re doing and are dedicating themselves to the project, even to the point of using that process themselves when the time comes.

Coinspeaker: “Who do you see as the target audience of the Eternal Trusts project?”

Randal Koene: “I would hope that eventually everyone could be the audience. Although primarily it will be those people who already think about life extension and about using technologies such as cryopreservation. I would say, at the moment, that the costs involved still allow only those people with capital to take advantage of the service. However, hopefully, in the future, medical services like the ones we discussed, and even setting up a trust like this, will also be made available through insurance policies — and costs will drop as development matures. For that, of course, there has to be public awareness that these things are really relevant and that there should be a call for insurance to provide coverage, so that you can get insurance for these medical options. I really hope that people take advantage of the possibilities and support the project, so that it can expand quickly to the point where it is a recognized societal benefit.

Coinspeaker: “Would you say that the project could be of use to people without the means to take advantage of life extension technologies? Say, as an insurance in case of a coma or some other fatal injury that leaves the brain functional to a limited degree?”

Randal Koene: “In principle, it could be helpful to these segments of the population as well. Obviously, if they’re not able to buy into future technologies in the way that someone with capital would, then they have somewhat limited options at this point in time. But let’s say you’re trying to prevent a situation where you yourself cannot make any choices because you’re in a coma, then it could prove useful. The same basic idea applies as if you were in cryopreservation, in that the trust can be used as a dynamic way to make future decisions for you. Even in that case, this will allow you to have a say in your own in your care and in the procedures that may be applied to bring you out of a coma, or to repair whatever damage has occurred.

Let’s say you had a stroke, and there is an experimental procedure for having a neural implant put in place to heal what is damaged… his is directly relevant because it is exactly the sort of work that the team here in California was testing the hippocampal prosthesis for. If there’s a stroke, then maybe you could get that repaired and you might be able to resume normal brain function, but if there’s no one there to speak for you, then how do you get access to that kind of technology? Especially, if it’s still in the early stages of development and there needs to be some process for saying whether or not you would agree to its experimental use. I’m not 100% sure how this would all work out in legal terms, because I don’t know if there is sufficient precedence., But, at least the notion that there will be something in place that will keep track of your options and that could express your wishes will definitely be a benefit, even for a coma patient.”

Coinspeaker: “Among the many functions the Eternal Trusts project serves it can be considered a stimulus for the research community in developing new technologies. Would you agree with that statement?”

Randal Koene: “Oh yes, it will definitely be a stimulus for research, because Eternal Trusts has this aspect of dynamic searching for new solutions, where they vet and choose what application may best serve their client, and that closes a significant gap that exists today. This active approach means that the research community knows there is already a market, a community of Trusts, where those Trusts are the market customers who are looking for the developments that meet their needs. They will choose the best options for development, ensuring that the market for future research and development can grow. With Eternal Trusts, they are putting in place functionality and motivators that will help overcome what is normally a very difficult funding gap when you look at the typical process for research. Fundamental basic research is carried out with some kind of government grant in a lab. Then, as part of the normal process, once you’ve reached the initial stage it turns out the that initial development output is never quite good enough to be applied as an actual procedure because it was merely the result of  pilot studies. However, it is very expensive to take those results to a point where you have an applicable procedure, even though once it does work, the new procedure is very attractive for funders, so by that stage there are no further bottlenecks in the pipeline.

The expensive bit in-between, however, that is usually the funding gap where good ideas end up dying, unfortunately. Now, if you put in place a marketplace of Trusts that are already signaling willingness to pay for newly developed procedures, then there is a much stronger incentive for those who can fund the research through that critical phase to put in the extra effort, because they already know which types of results these Trusts are looking for. They don’t face the question of “which possible paths of development are likely to be financially beneficial?” So I think that’s going to have an impact on the problem that exists today in funding R&D.”

Coinspeaker: “Please tell us about the stage of development the project is on right now, and what kind of first result can the Eternal Trusts project show in the near future?”

Randal Koene: “I think the process of setting in place the successful algorithm is already a very early result for the project. Even before we have a complete process for someone’s care or revival, you can already watch the processes that are being put in place: the algorithm and the team that is choosing the right path of development to focus on. These are some things you can follow over the next one to  three years, and see how that gets put in place, as well as, of course, the establishment of a proper way to formulate a Trust on the blockchain. So, these things can be determined very quickly. Then, I believe that what we were just talking about, in terms of how the existence of the Trusts stimulates research, is also something that will probably become clear within a very short period of time. Something like five years – where you begin to see that there are significant sums available through these Trusts, and this influences the choices that venture capitalists and others make who invest in R&D. So I think those are the very earliest stages that you will see.

Near term we’re not talking about something like brain preservation, cryopreservation and restoration. Instead, we’re talking about medical developments and their application and availability to patients, and we may see early signs of that, where some medical advance is made available to patients in a way that was previously not possible. For example, by seeking out the best political environment in which to apply that medical procedure and making that available to the patient and finding the right doctors. All of those things can also be systematized as part of an algorithm. We’re talking about patients who are alive but who need to find a way to solve a problem they’re dealing with today, and perhaps there is an advanced approach available to them somewhere that under normal circumstances their medical professional wouldn’t be able to point them to. So even that is something you could be able to find in the next few years, long before we’re getting to the ultimate goal of Eternal Trusts.”

Coinspeaker: “This question may seem personal, but what objectives and goals would you set for your own trust?”

Randal Koene: “It’s not so personal in my case, because I think I have been very public about this already. My professional focus has been on whole brain emulation, brain preservation and mind uploading, which is why I have talked about it so much in this interview. This means that my Trust would ensure optimal care for my preserved brain tissue and any brain recordings that were taken before brain preservation, because I personally believe that is essentially who we are – what is going on in the mind. As long as that is preserved and can be reconstituted to bring it alive again, that mind, then I survive and I’m still there. So the Trust would carefully follow the developments in neural prosthesis and brain emulation and the development of neuromorphic processors, as well as validation methods that are used for brain reconstruction – these four main areas. Ultimately, the Trust would provide for a reconstruction of my mind from those stored materials in a new artificial body. I am not sure which type of artificial body, because you could have the optimal result either in something that is a sophisticated type of robotics, or it could be cloned biology, or it could be virtual reality. It is not even clear to me that it needs to be just one or the other — it could be the availability of choices, so that you could switch from body to body. That’s why, in this instance, with these multiple options, my Trust would include a search for either the best option or the ability to have multiple options. This is sort of what I imagine it might look like.

Coinspeaker: “Coming back to the question of brain preservation, how far have we gone to determine what is it exactly that we need to save and upload in order to restore a person?”

Randal Koene: “Of course the answer has to be that we don’t know with 100% certainty what exactly needs to be preserved in order to bring a person back to existence through mind uploading — this is the reality. We do have some really good indications about what is probably the information that’s needed and this information comes partly from the types of studies that cognitive science and neuroscience have conducted in the past, many of which are studies about deficits where we show that if a particular function of the brain disappears, then the person has a certain kind of deficit. These functions are shown to involve the interaction of neurons and how they transmit electrical signals to one another, as well as how those signals are conducted through synapses that change over time. So, this basic principle in neuroscience is fairly well understood and seems to underlie what is going on in the brain when we think, when we feel, when we are conscious, when we have memories, but at the same time, there are now also the first indications of what it takes to reconstruct neural function.

I already spoke briefly about the neural prosthesis that the group at the University of Southern California has built with the leadership of Prof. Ted Berger. They focused on reconstructing a very small piece of the brain by using the known architecture of that piece of the brain. Therefore, knowledge of the connectome would be the sort of thing that is preserved in brain preservation, as well as recordings in that tissue. Then, reconstruction of the function of what’s going on in that architecture and the mapping of that function to the neuronal connectome structure is one of the most essential things if you want to be able to restore from a preserved brain. However, the fact that they are able to improve and restore memory function in patients using this is already an indication of the following basic idea: if you can recreate the neural connectivity and the neural activity, you can retrieve brain function. Similarly, there’s been a study very recently published,  by two researchers: Gornet and Scheffer at HHMI Janelia Research Campus, who studied if they could reconstruct the function of a small piece of the brain of drosophila, a fruit fly, by using a reconstructed structure of that piece of the brain obtained by electron microscopy. Using some knowledge of what the functions of the neurons in that part of the drosophila brain are typically like, and what kind of activity functions they typically have, the researchers were able to reconstruct a piece of what is the drosophila’s equivalent of our visual center, creating cells that react in a certain way to light and to movement.

This was the first attempt to see what we could actually do if we had a reconstruction from a preserved piece of tissue that was explored through a microscope, what you can actually bring back, and if it will function the way that you expect it to. At the moment, no one has bumped into any obvious problems where we say “oh, everything seems to work except for problem A, this thing can’t seem to do that, and there is no way we could put that in place just by tuning the activity of this network”. So it does appear to be the case that network structure and the typical function of the components in that network underlie how the brain works. There hasn’t been enough evidence to guarantee that there won’t be other details we’ll  need to recover, and so, a brain preservation method that preserves as much as possible of what is in the brain tissue is the safest course of action at this point. But it’s looking good so far.”

Coinspeaker: “Thank you very much for giving this interview!”

The project’s team has recently started its pre-ICO to distribute 200 000 000 ETT tokens. The startup wants to raise $2,000,000 during the sale that will continue until the end of May. The main ICO will run from June 1, 2018, till August 1, 2018, with a targeted soft cap of $7,000,000.

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Polina Chernykh

Polina is an undergraduate student at Belarusian State Economic University (BSEU) where she is studying at the faculty of International Business Communication for a degree specializing in Intercultural Communication. In her spare time she enjoys drawing, music and travelling.

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