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"Posthuman Urban Cyber-Zombies"


Most people believe that there are only two real certainties: death and taxes. In Palo Alto, located in California’s Silicon Valley, they laugh in the face of both. Here they get tax-breaks from the California state government to pursue weird techno-dreams that defy death. One dream is to convert all the thoughts and experiences within a person’s mind into a digital form and then upload it into some alternative bio-machine, an avatar if you like, that can go on living forever, even when their own human bodies and brains turn to dust.

On the streets of future Palo Alto, the first mass-produced avatar is now a common sight. Here, the three-legged, one-eyed avatar is fashioned together from dead physical remains of digitally-uploaded humans along with lab-cultured mammalian body parts. This three-legged, one-eyed variety is selected because they are cheap and easy to make (cheap for Silicon Valley billionaires, that is) and they are a little more stable than any two-legged varieties.


For some, these avatars are kind of cute and colorful. For others, they are so abominable they have scary nicknames thrown at them; being called 'Frankenbeasts' by some and 'Valley Zombies' by others. Yet for Silicon Valley technophiles they are a shot at immortality, an opportunity to live in on in a post-Death world. Whatever, the only cities that don't outlaw their free-roaming existence are all in Silicon Valley, and here, they sell like hotcakes.

How is this anything like a utopia? Well, the avatars can serve to resurrect long-since deceased techno-geniuses of the past. In late 20th century Palo Alto, there are avatars of Niko Tesla bumping into avatars of Steve Jobs, and of course the Edison and Einstein avatar too. If these people were alive during the digital age, their brainwaves and thoughts would’ve been converted into bits of information and uploaded to the avatar’s computer. If they come from the pre-digital age, then it is some fragment of their DNA plus a digitized compendium of all their writings and recordings that gets uploaded.

According to avatar fans, these resurrected geniuses will go on to make the whole world a better place by creating innovative technologies, including eco-technologies like solar energy factories in space and hyperloop hi-speedy trains zipping around beneath the world's cities.

Also, the avatars have the added ‘eco’ advantage in that they have the capacity to instantly adjust their settings to maximize efficient use of energy and resources, unlike slow and stupid humans. They are also more able to survive whatever pollution is out there in the world of the late 20th century. Whatever toxic waste humanity can throw into the biosphere, it might kill other humans but it won’t hurt the hardy avatars. The world may get smogged-out, the climate may be in chaos, but the avatars have robust bodies and fast minds to help pull them through.

Of course, like all new technologies, there are unforeseen risks, and in the race to get the avatars out and into the market to serve dead and dying techno-freaky geeks and to make living techie-entrepreneurs lots of money, most of the avatars are not always perfectly engineered for the city environs. Sometimes, they clumsily bump into people, into each other, and into passing cars (self-driving ones and human-driven ones, alike). Other times they spill out toxic effluvia into the face of children, or swing their third-leg a little too eagerly and whack an elderly person in the mouth. In fact, they are so accident-prone, annoying and clumsy that most cities around the world end up outlawing-them altogether for safety reasons. But in Palo Alto 2121, they are free to roam around the streets at will.

By 2121 AD, the city is covered by these Cyber-Zombies; the living are outnumbered by the (un)dead. A few hardy ‘lifers’ stay-on but eventually as the avatars become the majority and learn a thing or two about politics, the zombies stage a takeover and start organizing Palo Alto for themselves. It might seem crazy that zombies could run for office; they’re not even human, really, but their lawyers declare the zombies are the artificial bodies of real persons, manifest in a new form, and as real persons they deserve full human rights.

In the end, the avatars prove as clumsy at making city laws just as they are traversing the streets, and Palo Alto descends into zombie chaos. To mitigate this, the avatars often invoke a rather unpredictable pre-programmed auto-response to their own clumsiness, which paralyzes them on-the-spot when they notice another zombie lumber into a potentially dangerous situation; crossing the road, for example, or ducking under a tree too speedily. This auto-response is never ever programmed to the right degree of sensitivity or reaction, and so some zombies just collapse into paralysis when they see another living being, and other zombies start spasming uncontrollably, flailing their limbs in all directions because the visual cues hitting their big eyeball cannot be processed effectively.

To deal with this, another auto-response is programmed and rolled-out whereby the eyeball self-destructs if it is receiving too much information. In some zombies of a nervous disposition, the eyeball explodes after the 100th daily shutdown in order to quell disquieting inputs. This is particularly inconvenient when they have already seen 99 clumsy zombie things in a day while crossing a busy intersection on their way home.

In order to combat this situation, the future Palo Alto city government erects thousands of 'Danger' signs all over the city, warning about a potentially risky situations and the possibility of adverse automatic reactions. This, itself, seems to do nothing but exacerbate the problem because it exposes the zombies to further nervousness, prompting more and more of their eyeballs to explode.


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