Image from Bernd Helfert

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.

The difficulty of creating a backup recording varies according to that entity's substrate. AIs 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. Bionts, and cyborgs that use a biologically based 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 passive recorders over a span of seconds or even minutes. The data from such recordings, together with genetic information and a less detailed record of the overall body's state and proportions is used to create a "good enough" copy that cannot be distinguished from the original by subsingularity intellects. 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. 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. In this sense the copy is not, empirically, the same as any original or the same as any other copy. The rate of divergence accelerates with differing experiences, and of course some clades and individuals diverge more swiftly than others from the original template. Again, to subsingularity individuals this usually looks like, and effectively is, normal 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 (see for instance continuity identity theory, pattern identity theory). In many places it is a cultural given that one's backup is oneself. Under this view, for instance, it is impossible to murder an individual who has just been backed up as long as the backup is copied into an identical (or, at least, indistinguishable) physical vessel. If there is a gap in time between the time of the last backup recording and the last experience of the "original", then the reconstituted "backup" regards this as a sort of amnesia and carries on with eir life. 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. Many individuals and societies may hold apparently contradictory views regarding the difference between the original and the backup, depending on the circumstances. To name just one legal aspect, the answer to the question "is a backup legally and morally responsible for the actions of the template" usually varies according to whether or not the two share the memory of the actions in question, whether one, both, or neither of the individuals is alive, the nature of the of the action (trivial or significant, culpable or meritorious, recent or in the distant past), and a host of other variables.

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.

In some places creation of backups is commonplace, and many autotopias automatically deploy a backup if a citizen is killed unless that individual has placed a "do not reconstitute" order on recordings (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, but 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
Initially published on 10 September 2005.