Exploring the development of a neural net powered by nanobots that can help treat depressive episodes in humans.
Jacob had decided — he needed to get the nanobots out. They had done their job, but it was time for them to go. He needed to be himself again.
It was just a few years ago that Jacob could remember spending time with his father as they both painted ceramic pots in the summer evening. His dad, he remembered, drew Jacob and himself on the pot. He can still remember the immense happiness and uncontrollable giggles after his dad unveiled his creation — it was the happiest he had ever been.
Later that year, after a tumultuous battle with cancer, his father left him. Jacob slowly slipped into depression, cutting himself off from his mother and little brother, who needed him most.
Unable to feel, he spent most of his days locked up in his room. He forgot to eat. He rarely looked at his grieving family; he saw them move farther away as he fell into a dark hole of his own thoughts. Most days, he would sit on the hardwood floor, with the lights off, and stare at the walls plastered with photos of the family. He watched tears roll down his cheeks as he reminisced.
Days stretched as the friendly summer transformed into the chilly winter, until Erin, his best friend, drove him down to the Institute for Neuroscience, a small center on the outskirts of town.
Once inside, Jacob was quickly redirected into the doctor’s office. She had a warm smile plastered across her face as she welcomed him with a firm handshake. “It’s going to all go away, all the sad thoughts,” she said comfortingly, seating him on the examination chair.
She talked with Erin at length, explaining the procedure that they would perform. Erin seemed tense, but also relieved. It was a new technology, but at this point, she was willing to try it out if it meant that she could have her ever-smiling Jacob back.
After discussing it with Erin, the doctor turned toward Jacob and began describing the technology to him. He barely listened and continued to stare at the clinic walls covered with pictures of happy people, smiling at him. The seemingly hundreds of images triggered him — he wished that one day he could also be as happy as the smiling people in the frames.
“An injection will deliver the nanobots into your bloodstream, where they will be guided from your arm into your brain,” she said. “We will then send a strong pulse that will temporarily open your brain-blood barrier, allowing these bots to enter your brain.”
Leveraging the brain’s molecular motion, the nanobots would spread to form electrodes. The developed neural network could tell where Jacob’s brain circuitry was misfiring and then repair it with electrical nudges, ultimately bringing back his smile.
It was beyond his comprehension, but he wasn’t in a state to argue. Reluctantly, he pushed his arm forward, allowing the doctor to administer his injection.
Within just a few weeks, his rumbling laughter had returned. Jacob’s nanobots learned the rhythm of his net and his life. With the computation and the help of the doctor, the nanobots were able to identify and prevent the onset of a depressive episode.
He remembered the day they all went to the county fair. He, his brother and his mother ate fluffy clouds of cotton candy as they watched the circus perform. He laughed, snorting, unable to contain his excitement at watching the funny clown in extravagant clothing.
Sometimes, he laughed at the wrong times — he chuckled as Erin cried after losing her pet. But he was truly happy to feel happy.
After a few months and some tweaks by the doctor, Jacob’s emotions evened. He no longer felt debilitating depression or numbness. The random bursts of inappropriate laughter also subsided.
But, amidst this all, he still didn’t feel normal; Jacob was unable to feel nervous before a big presentation at work (the nanobots considered it a precursor to a panic attack), and nor was he able to get teary-eyed as his little brother learned to bike.
He was happy, but he wasn’t human.
For the bots and net, no problem was too big; they could cure addiction, depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation. However, the only thing they couldn’t do was give Jacob the plethora of complex emotions that came with being human; the bots couldn’t grant Jacob his humanity.
His search for this varied experience of emotions drove Jacob back to the brick building at the Institute of Neuroscience.
He went over the extraction process with the doctor once again: a pulse would loosen the barrier and a magnetic force would pull the bots back to the arm.
She asked him again if he truly wanted to do this.
Jacob nodded slowly.
“Yes,” he confidently replied. “I want to feel human again.”