Enhanced Uploads

Augmentation and autoevolution among uploaded sophonts

Enhanced upload
Image from Steve Bowers


Of all the technologies used by Terragens in their daily lives, mind uploading arguably offers the greatest potential for intelligence augmentation and ascension. A virtual sophont's emulated brain can instantly incorporate new knowledge and learning, or be rewritten from the ground up to facilitate exotic forms of consciousness. All of this was made possible by the early pioneers in mind uploading, who first experimented with self-editing and backups during the Dark Ages, and revolutionised virtual lifestyles with their discoveries during the First Federation period.


Early attempts at mind uploading focused on emulating all the brain's biochemical processes in software, including neurotransmitter behaviour and electrical noise, which was thought to be necessary since the underlying mechanisms behind consciousness were not yet fully understood. Modelling these effects required vast banks of compute nodes, with each baseline mind occupying an entire supercomputing facility by itself.

From 435AT onwards, these installations were built only in the territories of the Gengineer Republic, as the Council of Earth had banned all uploading research within its jurisdiction, with the rest of the Inner System following their lead. These virchworlds were severely affected by the malware plagues, and were forced to sever all network connections to the outside world in order to survive. These isolated upload communities found themselves with very limited computing resources and no way of expanding them to meet their needs.

It remains unclear where or when the first optimisation techniques were developed, as they appear to have been discovered independently by different virchworlds facing the same challenging conditions. Nonetheless, when these worlds were finally recontacted by the First Federation, their inhabitants had simplified the neural networks that made up their minds, representing these processes as abstract functions rather than fully simulated biological cells.

These innovations resulted in enormous reductions in the system resources that uploads required, allowing for an enriched quality of life during this dangerous period. It also had the effect of making the structure of the uploaded minds much easier to edit, as it was no longer necessary to remodel complicated biochemical effects every time a change was made. These changes also made restoring from backups simpler and less error-prone than before.

Over the centuries that followed, new virtual communities began to experiment with these techniques to enhance their mental abilities. Mental feedback software was developed that allowed these sophonts to fully understand the workings of their own minds, and alter these processes for greater performance. Others sought to customise their simulated bodies, adding new senses they had lacked in their original form, or testing out new clade forms before engenerating into them.

The First Federation made great use of these entities and their unique skillsets, as they could travel as data packets at lightspeed, integrate into local infrastructure for troubleshooting and maintenance, add new skills far more quickly than bionts could and act as interpreters between AI and embodied beings. By the late Federation period, avatars of the newly emerging AI Gods began contacting the most capable uploads and guiding them towards full ascension, integrating them into their new empires.

Psychology and Cognition

Most biont brains differ greatly from those of artificial beings, and suffer from a number of shortcomings in comparison. They typically lack the modular memory systems used by AI, instead having to acquire new information by learning through experience. In addition to this, they are prone to logical fallacies and biased reasoning, due to evolutionary pressures favouring quick results over precise thinking. Uploads can restructure their minds to correct these flaws more easily than bionts, and their faster substrates act as less of a bottleneck on their exoselves, allowing them to integrate new knowledge much more quickly.

Even without these optimisations, uploads can easily alter the connectivity between different regions of their virtual neural network, or increase the processing capacity of one part of their mind while leaving the others unchanged. With modern computronium it is possible for such beings to process information millions of times faster than an embodied biont, though in practice such speeds are rarely used due to inter-node latency issues, increased social isolation, and excessive power and cooling requirements.

Uploads are just as vulnerable to bloatware as any native AI, and must take care to balance the pros and cons of different mental designs to avoid malfunctioning. Some superbright augmentations are notorious for having unexpected side effects as they can affect the sophont's perception of reality, and consultation with an expert system is always recommended to reduce the risks involved. Even so, safe templates for enhanced intelligence are available for the majority of common mind types.

Physiology and appearance

Newly uploaded bionts often prefer virches similar to environments they were comfortable in as embodied beings. Protocols that emulate the biological processes of a physical body have been developed to facilitate this, as well as compression algorithms for storing their genetic information if they ever wish to be reembodied again. The level of fidelity can be adjusted according to the level of resources available, and of course new senses and bodyplans can be switched to on demand, far more rapidly than a rebuild in an autodoc.

Modern virches make it easy to project different appearances for each person that a sophont interacts with, making it possible to communicate both with other exbionts and with the more abstract AIs that inhabit the cybercosm. Since these functions can be built into the virch itself, such flexibility is easier to manage than in the Ril where everyone must carry the necessary firmware for such systems to work. The notion that a specific body forms the basis of one's identity is little more than an anarchronism for virtual lifeforms.

In the long term, most uploads grow out of the need for familiarity and begin to explore ways of being that are not possible in the Ril, though they may return to their realistic biont shape from time to time. Many become hybrid entities that incorporate both detailed physical appearances and abstract mathematical forms. Others shed their old forms entirely but retain simulations of eating, sleeping, copulation and other aspects of embodied living that they may wish to experience again.

Society and Culture

Modern upload communities have used these advances to create new classes of beings, combining the emotional complexity of bionts with the superior efficiency of aioids. This has resulted in new challenges for beings that wish to be incarnated again after having lived a virtual life, particularly if they prefer a biological form. Many neogen brains were originally designed by uploads looking to create an organic template for types of intelligence that do not translate well to neuron-based architectures.

Other difficulties that uploads have encountered involve reproduction and family life, particularly when it comes to forks. Merging copies that have been living separately for an extended period of time is a non-trivial task, not to mention the legal and ethical challenges caused by many beings sharing the same memories and personality traits. Children may be produced by combining the mental templates of several different sophonts, or by combining the minds of all partners and reformatting them, which is sometimes seen as a kind of reincarnation.

With their variable clock speeds, uploads can withdraw from society entirely for subjective weeks or months, while no more than a few minutes might pass for the rest of the virch. Some choose to slow down their minds instead, and witness society changing around them at an incredibly rapid pace. Such vastly differing experiences of time can act as a barrier between these virtual societies and the ril, with many cultures losing interest in any world other than their own. Withdrawal into solipsism is common enough that the Cyberian Network has seen fit to prohibit such tendencies.

Enhanced Uploads in the 11th Millennium

Today, it is rare for uploads not to take advantage of the improvements that a virtual form has to offer, if only to save processing power for other purposes. It is also the preferred form of embodiment for those wishing to ascend, and for those living in conditions where energy and matter are scarce. Even in the comfortable Sephirotic regions, the quality and quantity of information that AI can process put them at the forefront of cultural and political life, and this is as true for uploads as for any native digital being.

However, virtual societies can sometimes undergo enormous changes in a very short period of time by biont standards, and can cause disruption to Ril communities that are unprepared for them. Restrictions on embodiment by uploads and AI have been put in place in some regions to prevent them from interfering with local norms, but these have exacerbated the natural tendency of some virtual communities to interact only with each other. The issue of how best to integrate these different ways of being is still an active topic of debate, resulting in as many new questions as answers.
Related Articles
Appears in Topics
Development Notes
Text by Extherian
From an original article by Daniel Eliot Boese
Initially published on 16 February 2011.

Updated august 2020