C57BL/6 (Beta)

The first mouse emulation appeared in 2032; a rodent’s entire anatomy, and all of its cells—including the brain—perfectly recapitulated using computer hardware. In those early days, only a few organizations had sufficient computing power (and the necessary data files) to run the emulations, which depended on custom-designed NVIDIA chips. The military had enough compute to run seven emulations and the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, enough to run five. A thirteenth emulator was thought to exist, but no one knew for sure.

The military’s emulators were commandeered by high-ranking officers at the Pentagon, Office for Naval Research, and CIA. The Pentagon sent a handful of chips to leading materials science laboratories, who worked tirelessly to dissect their atomic properties. The remaining emulators were mainly used to screen drugs that could make mice do various things of military interest—stay awake longer, move faster, grow larger muscles, etc. In 2035, a ProPublica investigation revealed that many of the in silico results had secretly been tested on prisoners in Guantanamo. Once the military felt that it had exhausted the emulators’ potential, they stored the chips and files somewhere in Fort Detrick. Not even the President knew exactly where.

The NIH gave grant-making committees authority to dole out access to the mouse emulators. The committees announced a series of grants, but ultimately awarded them to close friends at various academic institutions. One emulator went to a consortium at Harvard, a second to MIT, and the others to academics at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Utah. In exchange, the academics agreed to list all the NIH committee members as authors on all future papers in perpetuity. As h-indexes swelled to the hundreds, then thousands, they soon ceased to be relevant at all.

These academic emulators were used to churn out biomedical research papers; about 50 per day. Every experiment that could possibly be run on mice—every possible gene deletion, or even combinations of deletions, and every battery of physiological tests—were modeled and executed in silico. Soon, every problem under the sun had been solved in mice; aging, eyesight, diabetes, cancer, you name it. The researchers spun up companies and chaired important committees. They sat on the boards of pharmaceutical companies and began to apply their findings to people. The F.D.A. agreed to remove some pre-clinical testing requirements, such that 11 academics were soon involved in 7,100 clinical trials that had collectively enrolled 2.3 million people.

Rumors of the thirteenth emulator percolated around the Internet, but nobody knew for sure whether it was real. People in the r/biotech subreddit speculated that a disgruntled NVIDIA employee had quietly slipped away with a few chips and the data files, and was planning to sell them to a wealthy individual—perhaps Musk or Altman. So everyone was surprised when, in late 2032, a Reddit user by the name of Hitchhiker42 (later revealed to be a student living in Berkeley, California) uploaded all of the files and chip designs, for free, onto a public server. Hitchhiker42’s post began: “I think I found a bug in this emulator…”

Subscribe to Niko McCarty

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.