Image from Bernd Helfert

I can't remember my first death. One moment I was on a transport heading to an extreme sports zone (against parental advice), the next I was waking up in bed. My implants reported several days had passed and, sensing I was conscious, triggered the unpacking of a memory imprint. Instinctively I knew that I had been reconstituted from remote backup. A copy of my mindstate, stored in the hab soulbank, had been installed on a freshly grown body identical to the one I had lost. I'd made sure my back up was up-to-date on the transport and then gone on to try my hand at lava surfing. The imprint came with recordings taken from the zones sensor net, suffice to say I wasn't a good surfer and my body, cranial implant included, was incinerated. My parents were insufferable for months afterwards. When the four of them saw me back on my feet they performed an acapella "we told you so."

My second death I remember vividly. It was many years later in the Liscolt system. The local culture practiced ritual combat. I'd installed the correct etiquette protocols but still managed to offend a fellow patron at a café. My martial skillmod kept me alive for all of seven seconds before my opponent deployed a hitherto hidden armblade. The last thing I saw before blacking out was the reflection of my severed head as it flew past a window. My expression wasn't particularly dignified. I learned later that my opponent collected my head and, with extreme reverence, delivered it to a clinic so that my local backup could be removed and implanted in a fresh body. Odd culture really. After my third death at their hands I quickly moved on.

Excerpt from Alacia.'s memoir: My Many Deaths and What They Taught Me.

A backup is a recording of the entire physical mind/body state of any entity (animal, bot, baseline human equivalent, or transapient), created with the intent that it might be replicated at a later date. Backups can be remote (data transmitted to a secure facility) or local (data stored on an implant). It is common for terragens to use both strategies concurrently.

The difficulty of creating a backup recording varies according to that entity's substrate. Virtuals resident in many of the standard kinds of computronium can often be reproduced nearly instantly with full fidelity, but some advanced computronium substrates and special cognitive structures make this process difficult or even impossible. Likewise most (though not all) vecs can make copies of themselves by replicating their program in an identical body. Biont and cyborgs that use a biological brain can be copied, but the process requires considerably more time (depending on the acceptable degree of fidelity). Backups of biont brains are not the "snapshot" that common understanding makes it, but a fairly detailed mapping of the activity and connections of the neurons and glial cells and the brain's general biochemical state, gathered from recorders over a span of seconds or even minutes. Local backups for bionts constantly spool this information, in event of sudden death hazy memories of the moments leading up to the event are common. The data from such recordings together with geno- and phenotype information (typically generated by medisystem, or an autodoc scan) is used to create a high fidelity copy that cannot be distinguished from the original without forensic scrutiny. A few clades, such as the Polarizers have minds that cannot be recorded at all. This is usually a side effect of some other design feature (in the case of the Polarizers, mind encryption).

Modern technology is such that if a recording is possible then accurate restored backup copies of most entities, even bionts, act and feel subjectively as if they are the originals, whatever their philosophical doubts may be (see continuity vs pattern theory). Practical experience has shown that the personality of an embodied backup eventually diverges from that of the original, just as any person changes over time, and that if two copies are created at the same time from the same backup data they diverge slowly due to chaos effects even if placed in identical environments. The rate of divergence changes depending on different experiences with some clades and individuals diverging more swiftly than others from the original template. This process is indistinguishable from normal singleton personality development and change.

Legal, religious, philosophical, and other cultural approaches towards backups and their use vary widely from clade to clade, from culture to culture, and from polity to polity. In many places it is a cultural given that one's backup is oneself. Under this view it is virtually impossible to truly murder an individual. Assault leading to bodyloss (for situations where implanted backups are unharmed), local murder (for situations where implanted backups are destroyed along with the body) and global homicide (for the heinous crime of destroying all backups of an individual, as well as the individual) vary in perceived seriousness across cultures. For sophonts that experience local death the gap in time between their last remote backup recording and the last experience of the "original" is often regarded as a form of amnesia. Even in such cultures, however, there are "grey areas" in such understandings. A gap of years between the time of one's last backup and the death of the original, or reconstitution into a radically different physical state, may cause the backup to be regarded as a new individual.

At the other extreme, some regard a person who is created from backup data as a new individual entirely: at most, the heir apparent of the original person, assuming that person to be dead, or that being's dependent or twin, assuming the original to be alive. A common legal difference between polities is the extent to which static (i.e. not activated) backups are afforded sophont rights. In most areas of the civilised galaxy they have some rights (such as the right not to be summarily deleted, edited or otherwise harmed) with an implied consent to legal guardianship by the active version. Due to this sophonts in much of the civilised galaxy have the right to move or delete their backups, though in most places sale would constitute slavery and in some cultures if the original is judged to have diverged too much their guardianship is void. Many individuals and societies may hold apparently contradictory views regarding the difference between the original and the backup, depending on the circumstances.

For safety and security sophonts in the major empires will often store their remote backups in several locations; be they separate databanks in the same hab, same system or across interstellar space (the latter being more common for sophonts living in nexus linked systems). Storage in databanks operated by a transapient or archai is considered the gold standard. In some cultures the risk of copy-theft, a crime in which a backup is illegally kidnapped and activated, is judged to be high enough or of such severe consequence that decryption keys for backups are given over to trusted third parties, separate to the databank. In many cases a decryption key will be broken into fragments so that multiple key-holders are needed to restore a sophont from backup. Whilst robust this method was famously practiced by the Elmalthi people who, in 5156 AT, committed mass suicide at the news of a blight in a nearby system. Decades later their crashcache would be recovered but as no Elmalthi survived the decryption keys are unavailable (though this hasn't stopped various historians from trying to track down any sophont who may have emigrated from Elamalthi territory before the act, in the hope some keys may be found to begin a chain reaction of decryption and restoration).

Religious responses to backup technology are extremely varied in nature. Some religions prohibit or strongly discourage the use of backup technology, while others regard it as irrelevant to larger questions. Still others have made resurrection via backup a recognized sacrament. Some manage to hold to one point of view in one circumstance and another of the three points of view in another. Various faiths have rituals surrounding the making of a new backup and reconsitution on one, such as; transferring a backup file to a priest through physical contact, undergoing periods of backup abstination to better reflect on mortality, spending an interlude in a virtual afterlife prior to reconstitution for evaluation of one's life actions and/or hedonistic or masochistic activity etc.

Throughout the Terragen sphere creation of backups is commonplace, and many autotopias automatically restore a citizen from backup if they are killed unless that individual has placed a "do not reconstitute" order on record (a wish which may or may not be honoured). In other places creation of entities from backup is restricted or prohibited, on a variety of grounds ranging from purely practical goals such as enhancing the rate of memetic and genetic turnover in the population, or dampening risk-taking impulses in the populace to less definable philosophical and religious ideals.

Creation or reconstitution of individuals from backup data is usually governed by the local polity's reproduction laws, if there are any. In most parts of the Civilized Galaxy, this prevents more than one (or at most a few) copies of an individual from existing in the same polity at the same time. There are, naturally, many exceptions to this general rule with the most common being the use of temporary licenses. Experiences with occasional runaway reproduction by "ditto" enthusiasts (the Fubas Clone Goo Event, is one of the most notorious) have generally forced this or a similar solution regardless of the polity's original memetic regarding backups.

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Development Notes
Text by Stephen Inniss
Updated by Ryan B (2/4/2019)
Initially published on 10 September 2005.