The cameras were flashing. The bright stage lights came on, and Udaya could barely see the people in the audience. His smart contact lenses could artificially brighten the faces, but he had an idea he had never tried before. He kicked up the animated emoji overlay, hoping that the GPUs could handle the mass of faces in front of him. Surprisingly, it worked. All the people in the audience were replaced with random anthropomorphic animals – frogs, bunnies, elephants, pandas, cats and eagles stared up at him. Udaya’s stage fright evaporated. An overlay in his lenses prompted him through his presentation.
After the talk, Udaya went around the conference floor answering questions, meeting people, and building his network. It was the part he usually dreaded, but he had kept the XR overlays on. He talked to an morose jeroba, and scheduled a media interaction. Next up was a animated orangutan who wanted some technical questions answered. By the end of the day he had exchanged visiting cards with a dugong, an anteater and a dingo. After the conference, an argali showed up with his taxi. Udaya decided that it was time to turn the overlays off.
“May you live a thousand years, and even longer” said the chaperone, as Udaya boarded the autonomous ferry. “Thanks, I probably will” replied Udaya, and he was half serious. The ferry crossed the Karnaphuli river, towards the Chittagong hyperloop portal on the opposite bank. Udaya watched as the fleets of drone container barges moved methodically towards the sprawling depot on his port side. Even through the fog, he could see a forest of cranes, autonomously unloading and loading the barges with precision. Fixed wing drones circled high over the depot, their high resolution cameras surveying the area from above, making sure that the barges, the cranes and the transport pods were all in line.
An invisible cochlear implant buzzed softly, indicating an incoming call. He conjured up a mental image of a green bulb, which an AI chip in his brain had been trained to interpret as a signal to project the conversation on his smart lenses. A chat box popped up in front of him, as he monitored the agents engaging in a customary conversation. He did not feel the need to step in, as his customised chatbot informed his boss that the presentation had gone well. The boss congratulated him and promised to take him out to dinner in a few days, and terminated the call. Udaya was not really into food, but nonetheless, he smiled inwardly at the complement.
It was a scenic route above the treetops of the thick rainforests in the Arakan mountains, a perfect setting for what he was about to do. Udaya used his personal touchscreen to call for a glass of hot water. It came to him in a tiny carriage running along rails just beneath the window. He took out a pouch, which contained a black ellipsoid within. He dropped the ball into the water, and waited as the structure unfolded into a single glove. Even though he had just taken it out of the water, the 4D printed kevlar dampening glove were completely dry. Woven within the kevlar bands was a network of soft actuators. Once he had put on the glove, Udaya took out a case of calligraphic pens, and a blank notecard.
Even at 900 kilometers per hour, the ride on the Hyperloop was extremely smooth. The gloves were merely to cancel out the tremors of his own hand. He used the brush carefully to write out “Arnold Schwarzenegger” with the text string resembling a robotic hand giving a thumbs up. Once he was finished, Udaya blinked his eyes with deliberation, to capture an image, to be uploaded to a scrollwork community channel on InstaSnap. The train emerged from the forests and started zooming past fields of sunflowers with swarming zombees. Udaya summoned a glass of cold water, dropped the glove inside it, where it began to assume the shape of an ellipsoid again. He then proceeded to closely monitor his post for reactions and comments through the rest of the journey.
Udaya looked up as the massive Mandalay portal, came into view ahead of him. The train seemed to be decelerating earlier than usual. A soft but urgent ping alerted him that it was an emergency situation. Looking out of the large windows, he saw what the problem was. There was some kind of protest outside the portal. A crowd had gathered with various signs. These were probably the humanists that he had heard about. Their philosophy was to not use any kind of technological augments in their bodies, unless it was for medical interventions. They tolerated even these, only if they were non permanent. Udaya sent a command to his smart lens to zoom in, through a neural implant in his visual cortex. He started scanning the features of the protesters for any endearing imperfections. He saw a wildly gesticulating woman, and noticed a chipped tooth. That was unconventional, he thought. Pity his teeth were entirely natural.
He could see what was going on, but could not hear anything. It was possible to remedy that. Through his touchscreen, he activated a lip reading program, and used his gaze to lock on the woman with the chipped tooth. She had launched into a diatribe about discrimination towards unaugmented humans. Two autonomous riot control trucks rolled in, penning the protestors between them, and immobilising the mob with a sonic assault, and simultaneously blinding them temporarily, with lasers. A flock of autonomous quadcopters advanced, picking out and neutralising anyone still moving with pepper spray. Udaya heard a desperate yelp before the woman went down. The massive shields in the front of the trucks lifted, and the riot control police moved it. Soon, the protest was dissipated, and the pod started moving again.
Once he reached home, Udaya removed a bottle from a pre-digestor in the kitchen. He pressed a button on his abdomen to open up access to the fistula. He then proceeded to pour his dinner, a pulpy mush, directly into the stomach. Eating to actually taste the food was a social activity for special occasions, and it was not something that Udaya enjoyed too much anyway.
As he lay in his bed, Udaya started thinking of what the protestors really wanted. He wondered, if they had to go back to the “natural” state of humans, how far back they would have to go. The human race had advanced too much along a path. The relationship between man and machine would continue to get increasingly intimate, it was inevitable. The barriers between the inner and outer worlds would continue to be broken down. The first hammermaker in Tanzania, the flint-fire wielders of Morocco, the road builders in ancient Harappa, and the Sumerian clay tablet writers, were all using tools that were extensions of the bodies and minds of humans. Even the most primitive technologies were cybernetic. For millions of years, humans had been augmented. The Homo Sapiens had started off as a cyborg species. Yes, Udaya concluded, it was too late to go back.
He closed his eyes. With the onset of sleep, a tiny implant in his pineal gland started pumping out microdoses of DMT. A network of electrodes beneath his skull simulated his entire brain in a pre-programmed dream sequence. It was a lush green meadow, under a dark purple sky with a bright moon and twinkling stars. A white fence ran along it, all the way to the horizon. In twos and threes, an endless stream of fluffy white sheep began jumping over the fence.