Forum 2023: Our 21st Century Brain cover image


Dates: Thursday 2 November 2023, 8.45 am–5.00 pm AEDT
Venue: Live-streamed and now on YouTube
Brochure: A program brochure, comprising the program, abstracts and speaker biographies, is available from this website.

On this page:


The brain underpins our basic instincts and needs, and behavioural responses to the world around us. The brain mediates our compassion, reason, and imagination which are reflected in great works of the arts and sciences. Yet our brain is also the source of distress, dysfunction, and malice. Despite centuries of recurring impacts of tribalism, racism, dehumanisation, and exclusion of ‘outsiders’, we continue to inflict suffering on others.

At the same time, the 21st century brings new challenges that extend well beyond immediate threats to very complex societal challenges such as global security, climate change, massive demographic shifts, resource management, information overload, and artificial intelligence.

Have we reached the edge of our human capacity to respond effectively as either individuals or collective groups?

The context and demands on our brains have been transformed by the very tools we have created, including new information technology platforms, and rapidly developing and deployed forms of artificial intelligence. Diseases of the brain are increasingly prevalent in our ageing population, as are the increasing mental health challenges that are evident across the human lifespan.

Considerable progress across the sciences and humanities has deepened our understanding of genetic, environmental, and social factors that underpin brain development and function. Rising demands on our capacity to respond appropriately to globalised threats bring an urgent need to apply our scientific understanding to the development of just and sustainable solutions.

This year’s Royal Society of New South Wales and Learned Academies Forum focusses on recent progress in unravelling the workings of the brain and opportunities to use our emerging understanding to promote human well-being well beyond the 21st Century.

The Forum is held under the auspices of Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, Governor of New South Wales.  The Royal Society of New South Wales acknowledges the generous support of Her Excellency, the Academies, the Office of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, and Haus Holdings.

Program and Presentations

The full video recording of each session is accessed by clicking on the YouTube video images, while direct access to each of the speakers' presentations and segments in the sessions is available through the links shown in the program text.  

Welcome, Opening and Keynote Presentations

Introduction to the Governor
President, Royal Society of NSW

Official Opening
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC
Governor of New South Wales

Welcome and Acknowledgements
President, Royal Society of NSW

Keynote presentations

Scientia Professor George Paxinos AO DistFRSN FAA FASSA FAHMS
NEURA and UNSW Sydney
Moderator and Presenter

Professor Lucy Palmer
Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellow
Florey Institute
University of Melbourne

Dr Joshua Gordon
National Institute of Medical Health, USA
Session I: The Developing Mind
Professor Penny Van Bergen
Head, School of Education
University of Wollongong

Professor Adam Guastella
Michael Crouch Chair in Child & Youth Mental Health
Sydney Children's Hospital and
University of Sydney

Professor Sharynne McLeod FRSN FASSA
Professor of Speech and Language Acquisition
Charles Sturt University

Professor Anne Castles
ARC Laureate Fellow
Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy
Australian Catholic University

Associate Professor Kate Highfield
Discipline Lead for Early Childhood Education
University of Canberra

Audience Q&A
Moderated by Professor Penny Van Bergen

Session II: The Brain—Social, cultural, and Philosophical Perspectives

Emeritus Professor Philippa Pattison AO FRSN FASSA
University of Sydney

Professor Andrew Chanen
Chief of Clinical Practice and Head, Personality Disorder Research, Orygen, & Professorial Fellow, Centre for Youth Mental Research
University of Melbourne

The Hon. Dr Andrew Leigh MP FASSA
Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasury
Australian Government

Dr Jennifer Kent
DECRA and Robinson Fellow and Urbanism Research Discipline Lead
University of Sydney School of Architecture, Design, and Planning

Professor Jakelin Troy FASSA
Director, Indigenous Research
University of Sydney

Professor David Braddon-Mitchell
Professor of Philosophy
University of Sydney

Audience Q&A
Moderated by Emeritus Professor Philippa Pattison

Session III: The Brain Disease Burden in Adults 
Professor Anthony Cunningham AO FRSN FAHMS
Director, Centre for Virus Research
Westmead Institute for Medical Research and
University of Sydney

Professor Glenda Halliday FAA FAHMS
NHMRC Leadership Fellow
Sydney School of Medical Sciences
University of Sydney

Professor Sharon Naismith
NHMRC Leadership Fellow and Leonard P Ullman Chair in Psychology
University of Sydney

Associate Professor Lycette Cysique
Cross-disciplinary Neurophysiologist
St Vincent's Applied Medical Research Centre and
Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney

Audience Q&A
Moderated by Professor Anthony Cunningham

Session IV: Turbocharging Human Intelligence with Artificial Intelligence
Professor Ian Oppermann FRSN FTSE
NSW Government Chief Data Scientist and
Industry Professor, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Sally Cripps
Director of Technology, Human Technology Institute and
Professor of Mathematics and Statistics
University of Technology Sydney

Ms Stela Solar
Director, National AI Centre

Professor Lyria Bennett Moses
Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Law and Justice, and
Director, UNSW Allens Hub for Technology, Law, and Innovation
UNSW Sydney

Audience Q&A
Moderated by Professor Ian Oppermann
Session V: Rapporteur Remarks — Implications for the Future
Professor Ian Hickie AM FRSN FASSA FAHMS
NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow
Professor of Psychiatry and Co-Director (Health and Policy), Brain and Mind Centre
University of Sydney
with panellists

Emeritus Professor Peter Baume AC DistFRSN

Scientia Professor Helen Christensen AO FASSA FAHMS, Blackdog Institute and UNSW Sydney

Emeritus Professor Philippa Pattison AO FRSN FASSA, University of Sydney

Professor Jakelin Troy FASSA, University of Sydney
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