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Uploading technology, The Early History of

Evocations, Scions, Destructive and Non-destructive Uploading, and Copying

Gradual Uploading
Image from Steve Bowers
A patient undergoing an early version of Gradual Uploading. This procedure, developed in the Jovian League, allows the partient to be conscious throughout, minimized the abruptness of the conversion to virtual space and preserving a sense of continuous existence. Before this technique was developed, uploading was performed while the patient was unconscious, or even post-mortem.
Long before it was possible, the dream of uploading a human's personality into a computer was discussed on a theoretical level. Recent discoveries of data from the Late Industrial Age suggests that the idea had already been discussed before the first landing on Luna, and became an important part of the transhumanist agenda in the early decades After Tranquility. But the technology for uploading was nothing more than a theoretical possibility at that time.

Even before the development of Human Equivalent (also known as Turingrade ) Artificial Intelligence in 90 a.t., many human-like programs were available, some of which were very convincing. These human-like agents were often used as user-friendly interfaces between the public and various commercial and governmental organizations, or between users and autonomous systems in domestic machinery and transport applications.

Evocations

In the Early Interplanetary age a form of proto-uploading, known as "Evoking", was gradually developed. The process fed extensive observational data on an individual into a psychological modelling program with the aim of creating a software persona with reverse-engineered memories and a synthetic personality to match that of the original. Early stages of this technology created inaccurate evocations as a consequence of both poor modelling software and insufficient data. Over time both improved until in the Middle Interplanetary age it was possible for people of average means to create a reasonable good quality evocation after some years spent lifelogging interspersed with periodic psychometric assessments (famously the Asimov Collective went a step further and instituted an opt-out evocation program into the universal surveillance systems of their habs, ostensably to be used to further research into advanced government systems and post-labour economics).

Despite passionate arguments by various transhumanist and extropian groups evocations failed to attain status as legal persons and, in most cultures, were never viewed as more than personalised chatbots. From the late 2nd throughout the 3rd century a.t. frequent court cases cemented the place of evocations as software. In one prominent case the last will and testament of Karen Wong, a Californian billionaire, to leave executive control over her portfolio to an evocation was overturned. This was after it was revealed she had deliberately committed Eco-treason against the Californian people, followed by suicide, in a misguided belief she would live on through a guilt free evocation that was fed no more data prior to the crime. Aside from establishing an important precedent to deter seeking loopholes via evocations the case called upon many prominent neuro-engineers and AI experts who demonstrated that evocations at the time exhibited a significant lack of metacognition, indicating a lack of true sophonce. Few evocations survived the Technocalypse, but some scholars hold the opinion that some of the longest running evocations, especially those with the most sophisticated operating systems, may have attained consciousness during this period; however this is not a widely accepted theory.

Rather than serving as a form of immortality, evocations filled a role as autobiographers, therapy tools and personal representatives. The latter form, known as scions, were the most common and etiquette varied by culture as to if and when it was appropriate to send a virtual scion to a social or work event in place of one's self. Some scions from this period, such as the Feynmann Expert Systems, were created as commercial products, banking on a level of general intelligence combined with the positive influence of a known idiosyncratic personality. With the expansion of these niche uses for evocations, and the widespread realisation that an evocation was not a conscious extension of oneself, it seemed the early transhumanist dreams of uploading were as remote as ever.

Destructive Uploading

By the fourth century a.t. neurotechnology had progressed to the point where destructive uploading of the entire mindstate of an individual could be attempted. Great strides had been made in understanding the underlying physical processes of the nervous system and attempts to create virtual animals from the combined data of thousands of connectome maps were showing progress. The early techniques of this time used a combination of brain scans on a living subject to create a rough map of brain activity followed by an infusion of neuroimaging agents that would bind to significant structures (for example; synapse-agents that would bind at concentrations correlated to synaptic weighting) and finally vitrification of the brain followed by sectioning and high-resolution imaging. The complexity of these early processes were immense with countless variables to be managed and optimised (many of which concerned mapping the rest of the body, particularly the endocrine system, to sufficient resolution to map the inputs required by a healthy brain).

Decade by decade steady progress was being made with animal and vat-grown testing, over time the quality of data collected and the modelling allowed for emulated minds that grew healthier and more stable. For many people of the era this progress was not fast enough, the market value of companies offering a sectioning procedure upon death soared like those of cryogenic companies in centuries previous. These companies operated under the hope that the data they could gain from the procedure would be enough for future emulation software to revive into a functioning mind. By the end of the fourth century several companies and research institutions, dissatisfied with the slow progress, pushed ahead with emulating their stored minds. Employing the most advanced brain-emulation software (at the time able to run various mammalian mindstate files, albeit with high failure rates) the projects received widespread public attention and were hugely controversial.

Many viewed this research as unethical; even though the only stored mindstates used were of people who had signed waivers to volunteer, the projects were in effect engaging in gross human experimentation. The first attempts to run the mindstates resulted in virtual people so damaged they underwent total neurological failure within seconds, the only option at that point was to restore from a fresh copy. The failed data was valuable and emulation technology progressed much faster in the early years of the fifth century. However public and government opinion grew increasingly outraged at the tests which many viewed as akin to mass torture and murder. One by one nations banned research into human mind emulation and in 435a.t., after an emergency convention at the Council of Earth (CoE) which included testimonials from several uploads suffering from severe neurodegenerative bugs, the ban was applied to all of Cis-Luna territory. Records of this time show that the Nation of New Zealand was the only real dissenter, offering virtual care homes for ill uploads rather than storing them in hope of future intervention.

Despite this setback the destructive upload technology progressed. Elsewhere in the system regulation was more relaxed, wealthy Cis-Luna companies sponsored labs in the belt and outer system. Combined with the slower but safer legal research from Earth emulation software improved to the point that most upload candidates could expect decades of stable emulation, but due to their dubious nature and cost these remained the purview of the extremely wealthy.

The "uploading winter" as one later scholar called it lasted until the 6th century a.t. when spring abruptly arrived. During the nanotech window micro-surgical technology reached a sophistication to the point that gradual mapping and replacement of neurons became practical. Within five years the physical procedure had been refined in Jovian space, the local expertise in biotechnology greatly accelerating the method by using vat-grown pseudo-brains. The equipment consisted of a robotic neurosurgeon with fractally branching arms terminating in nanoscale appendages, along with significant computer control systems to model the chaotic biochemical environment of each cell. After sedating the patient and digesting the skull (isolating vasculature as needed) the surgeon slowly infiltrated the brain layer by layer, replacing neurons, glial cells and bulk neural structures with artificial replacement customised on-the-fly to perform the same role. At the interface between machine and biology any biochemical signals that reached the machine were held onto, entered into a virtual simulation and any response required into the biological tissues fabricated. After several weeks the procedure would be complete, with the subject's head having been replaced by a massive bulk of computational elements and medical equipment. In theory the individual could now be awakened, and would be able to operate the motor functions of the body via the artificial nervous system replacing the brain. In practice this was rarely attempted; instead the replacement electronic brain was analysed in depth, often by cross-checking it against a previously created evocation. If the full mind state of the original was found to be present this entity could then be copied or stored and reproduced as a full virtual personality. Aside from being imaged at a lower level (with resolution varying depending on the particular organ in question) the biological body was discarded or at best stored using the unreliable vitrification techniques of the time.

The new technique was so groundbreaking it revealed ways of stabilizing, and even reviving many of the previously uploaded minds in a manner not seen in society since the development of dementia-reversing treatments of the previous centuries. The Earth-Luna volume was cautious in reversing its ban, instead opting for time to observe the health of the new uploads over time before making a decision (though many signatory nations allowed the procedure for the purpose of creating a stored mindstate for later use). For a few decades the number of uploads grew slowly due to the expense of the procedure, mostly pushed by Jovian intellectual property laws and saw the development of a small number of upload clades. Shortly before the Technocalypse the procedure had developed to the extent that the few kilograms of mapping hardware could be left inside the skull without causing any negative effects. This resulted in a new process in which a subject would be uploaded with the surgeon taking care not to damage the head in any visible way. The mapping hardware inside the skull would then switch modes to act as a transceiver to the upload now running on several hundred kilograms of computronium elsewhere. Using this method of teleoperation the individual was able to resume life in his or her own body, either all of the time or only in part. Such individuals called themselves Changelings, as they could live in both worlds, but they were sometimes given the derogatory label of 'zomborgs' owing to the blandness of the default caretaker program that would run their body while they were focused elsewhere.

Unfortunately for Terragenkind, emulation software and the sophisticated nanotechnology needed for non-destructive uploading were vulnerable during the Technocalypse. Few virtuals survived the Dark Age and it would be centuries before uploading technology again became safe, reliable and common.

Non-destructive uploading

True, reliable non-destructive uploading did not become available until the First Federation period, when symaiotic nanite probes were developed which could integrate with the neurons and synapses of the living brain without damaging them in any way. Approximately 10e12 of these nanites were integrated with the neurons of the subject, and the information state of each neuron was communicated to an external database. The more rapidly this information could be transferred, the more accurate the uploading was considered; eventually it was possible to upload the equivalent of an instantaneous mind state while the subject was conscious. Virtual copies could then be made of that mindstate, and the symaiotes could be deactivated and subsumed if necessary.

This non-destructive uploading led to the development of engeneration, that is to say the creation of living copies (sometimes called bioxoxes). The DNA of the original could be used to create a new adult body using bioprinting technology; the brain of this new body contained effectively no memories when new, so an infusion of symaiotes was introduced which reproduced the mindstate of the original, thereby downloading the mindstate of the original into the new clone body. In many cases the symaiote network would remain within the newly formed brain tissue for an extended period until the biological tissue could replicate the original mindstate with some fidelity. Eventually, with improved methods of data transmission using lasers the engeneration technique could be used to transmit copies to distant planets and eventually stars.

It is worth noting that the new biological copies would immediately begin to diverge in character and personality as they interacted with the environment; virtual copies diverge from the original in a similar fashion. On occasion copies have become became sworn enemies of the original individual, as in the case of House Holsta and the Copy War.

Upload
Image from Steve Bowers
 
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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 02 September 2008.

 
 
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