Since congressional Republicans voted in a bill containing the Trump administration's roll back of the Affordable Care Act, healthcare is once again a topic on everyone's lips. In the absence of any universal healthcare scheme, employer-provided medical coverage is a crucial benefit for employees, tempting people to stay at jobs they might otherwise have left, or apply for positions they wouldn't otherwise consider.
In the contest to attract new hires, tech companies often supplement already generous salaries with comprehensive benefit packages, and in this vein one company has hit on a novel idea: A health plan that covers its employees beyond death and into the realms of a speculative future rebirth.
Last week Numerai, an AI-driven hedge fund that invests based on models submitted by its anonymous data scientists , announced that it would be giving all its employees the chance to be cryogenically frozen in the event of death and resuscitated at some point in the future. The unusual statement was made in a tweet on Tuesday from founder Richard Craib, with a link to a job posting for a software engineer in which "whole-body preservation cryonics" is listed as a benefit offered.
In a phone call with Motherboard, Craib explained that the idea came from his own personal membership of cryonics provider Alcor, whose services will now be extended to Numerai employees too.
"If you want to have a chance of living much, much longer, then whether cryonics gives a five percent chance or a ten percent chance, it's still very good value for money," Craib said. "When I realized you could do it through a life insurance policy, then you're only paying a few hundred dollars a month for the chance of eternal life."
According to the founder, employees at Numerai had expressed interest and curiosity at Craib's own decision to be cryonically frozen in the event of his death, and after first joking about the idea of offering it to his staff on a startup podcast (discussion from the 1h15 mark) he decided to make it a reality. As far as new hiring goes, he also hopes the unconventional offer will "attract interesting people" to the company.
In practical terms, Numerai takes out an employee life insurance policy—in this case provided by Transamerica—that will cover cryonic storage, ensuring that on death an employee's body is delivered to Alcor and frozen, to be reanimated at such a future time as medical technology can undo the fatal damage. (A blurb on the Alcor site reads: "Revival of today's cryonics patients will require future repair by highly advanced future technology, such as molecular nanotechnology. Technology that is advanced enough to repair a cryopreserved brain would by its nature also be able to regrow new tissues, organs, and a healthy body for the revived person.")
But as with most other employee medical coverage, leaving the company means an end to the benefits, and thus the loss of a shot at eternal life. Doesn't the founder see anything dystopic about the idea of an employer having control over an employee's afterlife?
"You know, that's more an indictment of other companies," Craib said. "Why doesn't the next company that they join offer cryonics, because they probably do offer healthcare. I think maybe this will start a trend where more forward thinking people will start to offer this."
Currently most Numerai employees have signed up, though Craib says that some have opted out for religious or philosophical reasons. Those who retained the coverage have the chance to join the likes of Hal Finney, computer scientist and bitcoin pioneer, whose body currently rests in the Alcor vaults. But for software engineers who are more focused on bringing new life into the world than extending their own, other Silicon Valley companies might be a better option: big players like Facebook, Apple and Google provide fertility benefits such as egg freezing and IVF as part of their health packages.