Neuroscience 2043 Contest
Deadline extended until May 7th
Sidney and Me, 2043
George was irritated when he realized that he was going to have to go downtown in person to the
ProtoLab 2 facility. Aside from having to put on real clothes and fuel up the HydroCar, he thought he should download all of the data from the last month into his wrist chip to plug it into the LabAI
interface- just in case. He really hated correcting Sidney, but... he was mysteriously missing in action.
Well, George said to himself as his car drove him down the JFX at exactly 50 mph, I am the P.I., and the buck stops here- so here I come.
His car parked itself in the nearly empty garage, and he walked the short distance to the ProtoLab2
building. There the security bot scanned his retinas and welcomed him cheerfully, but no other humans were in sight. Most people operated their labs from home these days (staff had long ago been told to WFH). He took the elevator to his second floor lab and looked around. Everything seemed to be normal. In one corner the high-throughput assay machine produced its usual loud hum, and the freezer transport system was regularly sending 96-well plates over via the thawing/pipetting interface station.
“Sidney?” he called out. There was no answer. This was unusual. The lab needed SOME oversight, even if only by a sentient AI bot named Sidney. He went into the tissue culture room, where he was pleased to see that cells were flowing through clear tubes, getting plated in their programmed arrays. No Sidney. He went into the animal behavior room to check on the rats.
And there he found Sidney, though not in his usual state. Sidney, a Class II Lab Bot, normally efficiently rolled from station to station. Not today. Now Sidney was crouched down next to one of the cages and seemed to be speaking to one of the rats.
“What are you DOING down there, Sidney?” he asked perplexedly.
There was no response.
George reached down and shook Sidney’s “shoulder”. “Sidney!” he said sharply. “Please stand up and tell me what’s going on!”
The Class II Bot slowly straightened out to its full 7-foot height. “George,” it said, “it’s come to my
attention that we have a famous personage in one of our cages.”
“What?” George was confused.
“This rat here”- Sidney pointed to a large white rat looking expectantly at him- “turns out to be a social media influencer. Calls himself NickRat. He’s been posting information on our internet about our experiments.”
“He’s been posting?” said George. “How? And maybe more importantly, exactly WHAT has he been
Sidney looked pleased (if a Class II Bot can look pleased) and said, “He divides his time between general fundraising and lobbying the CNS journal editors to take an interest in your work. I think he is doing very well!”
George began to get worried. Was this the reason his DepAdmin had urgently wanted to talk to him? (so far, he had successfully avoided her calls). But how could HIS rat become a social influencer? “Sidney, are you working with this rat?”
The Bot lit up. ”Yes, boss, I implanted a wireless Nicolelis interface in his frontal cortex a few months
ago. After a little reward training, he was able to access the cage internet. Then I just let nature take its course. He decided all on his own that social media was the way to implement my instructions to get the lab more funding. Hey, look on your phone. I bet you will see a feed from NickRat!”
George looked at his phone, which responded to his gaze by turning on and showing him his latest feed. One message was indeed from NickRat! He opened it, not sure what he would find...and it was a direct link to the NickRat site in Bimbibap, the newest short video app. “What is this, Sidney?!” he exclaimed.
He clicked on the link and saw a captivating vision: a human-sized white rat in a lab coat with a
clipboard, sitting on a stool near a computer, bobbing his head to an extremely catchy HoLo tune while yellow neurons danced crazily on a screen behind him. Every few minutes, a line would flash across his phone in time to the music: Another AD patient cured! Another PD patient cured! Most astonishing of all was the number of subscribers shown at the bottom of the feed - 3 million and climbing steadily. Best of all, there seemed to be a way for each subscriber to donate a dollar each to his LabPhilanthrope site in the FUNGO-ME app!
George looked at the rat sitting quietly in his Enviro-Container. How had he managed to make himself an internet icon while eating lab chow in a small cage? Was he not performing his regular maze duties?
“You have some explaining to do, Sidney!”
Sidney seemed to sense some irritation and started to roll back away from George. “It wasn’t my doing, George. I only implanted the interface. A Google Independent AI started talking to him soon after that and convinced him that he could be an internet star. So they put together an earworm with a really great beat - you have to admit you liked it!- and then this all just happened naturally!”
George suddenly did the math in his head and began to think that maybe he should take the
DepAdmin’s calls after all. Wow, maybe that pricey virtual ephys rig was now within his reach! He bent down to take a look at NickRat. You couldn’t even see the Nicolelis interface. “Actually, that is pretty good work, Sidney! And what has been his progress with getting our work published in high impact journals?
Sidney, radiating unusual smugness for a Class II Bot, said, “That Brain Research paper you thought you were publishing? It’s now scheduled for the next issue of Nature. NickRat is a VERY persuasive
George unexpectedly felt a large load lift from his shoulders. He grabbed a piece of lab chow and
reached down to give it to NickRat. “I am very grateful to you guys! Let me know what we need to
He spun around and marched back to his vehicle. This time he turned on the overdrive burner and took the JFX Airway home. He could afford the extra hydrogen now!
Cognitive Disorders Prediction
I believe that by 2043, neuroscience will have made key breakthroughs in the origins of cognitive disorders. This will come about not just from ongoing progress in current strategies and models, but from new uses of artificial intelligence that build and interpret more complete models which link mechanistically widespread datasets, including genetic and environmental effects on cellular function, circuit-level disruptions from early life events, and outcome behaviors in animals and humans. With these breakthroughs, new therapies will be starting to come online and the motivation from both the public and the government to understand and control brain function will reach an all-time high.
US Funding Landscape Prediction
I would like to make a somewhat pessimistic prediction about what the US funding landscape for the biomedical sciences will look like in twenty years. My guess is that the NIH will basically be shut down as a research sponsoring organization. This is most likely to happen after another pandemic scare and because a foreign war seems perpetually imminent even though hostilities will hopefully not have started. Pseudo-populist lawmakers feeding on these fears will demand on and succeed in turning the government into a conservative protectionist institution, gutting services they don't like, including NIH and NSF. U.S. federal funding for biomedical research will be drastically reduced and probably largely diverted to the military. The progress of international research will thus be irrevocably slowed, especially with copycat nationalists in Europe hastening the collapse. However, given the popularity, importance, and benefits of research, a global network of new and larger foundations will emerge, dedicated not only to funding basic science and life-saving research, but also to take the lead on science education worldwide. This rapid diversification of funding sources and goals will ultimately have a profound and positive impact on scientific discovery. The exchange of knowledge and practices with cultures far removed from Western science will produce the greatest leap in international pure scientific innovation the world has ever known.