**2053, FRIDAY, 2:01 PM**
“Have a seat, Hagan.” The man gestured toward the black leather sofa in front of his desk. He was tall and bony and wore a white coat that was impeccably ironed and creased. With his broad bald dome of a head and small pallid ice-fleck-colored eyes, he had an annoyed look that suggested an irritable impatience. His chin was barely distinguishable from his thin neck, his face was small and pale, and the residual hair of his eyebrows and thin mustache were all a white blond. To Hagan, he looked more like an asshole than usual.
Sighing to himself, Hagan sat down. The pitch of the seat always tilted him slightly back so that his knees were higher than his buttocks. He never could position himself to sit up straight and always had to lean to the side or with his legs bowed out to lean forward, making him feel like was sitting on a toilet. Like he was a kid in the principal’s office, the conversations always began with “have a seat.” He prepared himself for the usual preamble.
“Hagan, I have been looking at your numbers, and they are not good.” Hagan’s chairman put his fingertips together and touched the tip of his nose for a long pause. “You are not generating the revenue you ought to be, either in clinical fees or in grants. Some things are going to have to change, Hagan.”
“Simon, you and I both know the market is down. Elective surgeries are always the first to take the hit. It’s a small downturn, and cases are sure to pick up in the spring.”
“Are you giving me excuses, soldier?”
Hagan rolled his eyes. Simon Canter, his boss, loved to take on military lingo when they would argue. Hagan knew Simon thought it made him sound tough or commanding or something. To Hagan, it just sounded silly.
“Simon, Jesus, no. What am I supposed to do—pull people into the OR against their will?”
“Market or no market, if it takes more work beating the bushes to get patients, then that’s what you gotta do. Less time in that little closet and more time out in the community talking to the primary care docs. If there is less water in the towel you gotta wring it harder, got me?”
“You know that’s more than a little closet, Simon.” Hagan could feel the heat rise on the back of his neck.
“To me, since your research isn’t generating any research dollars from Uncle Sam, it may as well be a closet.”
“I’m close, you know that, you’ve seen it, for Pete’s sake. I just need to take it a little further, and we’re not going to have any complaints about money for this department, I promise.”
“You promise, you keep saying, ‘its gonna happen, its gonna happen.’” Hagan watched as Simon put up his fingers to form the annoying quotation marks. “I need more than empty air—I need results. I need you to say to me, ‘mission accomplished.’ You keep saying neuromorphic artificial intelligence is the future; well, I need to pay bills in the present.”
“Dammit, Simon, do I really need to spell it out for you? If we were having this same conversation thirty years ago, you would be arguing against all the work that went into neuroprosthetics. Look what changed—every human’s mind is connected and augmented in every way possible. You and I, and about ninety percent of the human population, have a neuroprosthetic implanted. We can use our thoughts to engage the world beyond the limits of our bodies, brain-to-brain communication has changed the way humans interact, we can fix almost any brain injury, and the virtual reality—it’s changed the way we do everything. It’s what fucking built this city.”
“Do you also want to tell me about how my car works? I already know all this. What’s your point?” Canter asked snidely.
Hagan sighed. “Creating truly artificial intelligence based on the human brain’s architecture is the next step. After three decades of implants we have the data—all we need to do is apply it. Again, Jesus, you know that. Once we get there, we can make armies of virtual scientists to solve every problem in medicine. We can have enough intellectual resources to answer pretty much every question that the human species can’t currently figure out. It’s worth the sacrifice.”
“Show me the money, Hagan, show me the money. We are living in the here and now in 2053—not thirty years in the past, not thirty years in the future. And here in the present, no grants, no science, no cases—no salary.”
Copyright © 2014 by Eric C. Leuthardt