Mob, Moby

Mob, Moby, NPC (Non-Player Character)

Image from Steve Bowers
A virtual sophont who has never been a biont in a previous existence

Sophonts who are active inside virtual realities have a range of different origins. Many are hi-fidelity copies of sophonts who at one time existed in so-called Real Life; these include uploaded copies of humans and human-derived sophonts, provolves, splices, and vecs. Other virtual sophonts are simulations or partial copies of such pre-existing sophonts (personality copies created by other methods are known as Evocations or simms). Another class of sophonts active inside virtual reality are vusers, people who are still in physical form but who interact with the virtual world through an interface. Yet another form of virtual entity is a temporary infomorph created by an aioid; most AIs are able to duplicate themselves at will into many forms, both virtual and physical. But one class of infomorph is not directly copied from any pre-existing entity, but is instead generated to order by virtual environment designers to populate an imaginary environment. Such imaginary characters were created for the earliest virtual reality environments, and used primitive AI programs to simulate independent behaviour. These independent agents were originally known as Non-Player Characters.

Many NPCs would in fact be subroutines of the AI controlling the virtual reality environment; known as 'actors', these subroutines would only be partly independent, and would be merged back into the main mentality of the controlling AI after use. But an increasing number of non-player characters were completely independent entities, each carefully designed to fulfil particular roles in the virch. Over time the AI software associated with such NPCs became more sophisticated, and by the Middle Information Age the first turingrade NPCs appeared.

These non-player characters often made up the bulk of the population of an imaginary virtual world, the rest consisting of bionts using a virtual reality interface to operate avatars, or informorphs created by vecs and aioids. Since the middle First Federation era the virtual population has included many former humans and other bionts who have uploaded their mentality into data form, either destructively or non-destructively. But there are still very substantial numbers of generated virtual human-equivalent NPCs among the virtual population.

The personality of a virtual NPC can be generated by software capable of advanced personality synthesis; sometimes recreating a specific fictional character or historical personality (using the same algorithms used to create a Characterbot). Non-player characters which are recreations of specific historical or fictional characters are classed as simulations, or 'simms', that is, partial, best-guess simulations of a pre-existing sophont created without uploading technology.

Other non-player characters are not based on specific historical or fictional personalities, but are generated according to the requirements of the virtual reality environment they are meant to populate. These virtual entities may include quite realistic sets of simulated memories, which require considerable amount of processing power to generate. In addition each character will be given a comprehensive set of abilities, traits, predilections and prejudices, tailor-made to suit the kind of being that they are intended to simulate. Non-player characters generated in this way are generally known as Mobys, from the term mobile or mob, a term used in early computer games.

Not every inhabitant of a virch will need to be fully sophont, but generally the 'leading characters' are, as are many of the 'supporting cast'. Some of the leading characters are played by uploads of various kinds, others are character simulations based on real historical people or famous fictional characters. But many other important characters are turinggrade Mobys. Background characters, especially those with non-speaking roles, are played by 'actor subroutines'. Quite often, during the evolution of a virtual reality environment, the 'actor' subroutines operated by the controlling AI will become independent enough to be considered an independent moby. Over time the number of such mobys will increase for this reason, and if the virtual inhabitants of the environment are capable of simulated childbirth, the population of independent virtual sophonts will increase even further.

Historical simulations, alternate history scenarios, speculative future history scenarios and experimental cultural simulations generally include large numbers of independently existing simm- and moby-type virch entities who have never existed in any other substrate. In such simulations a moby may be conceived, born and grow in a way which replicates the growth of a biont in a real-life situation. This kind of virtual reproduction is more common in modern virtual environments than the generation of an adult character, so most modern mobys have acquired their own personal characteristics in very much the same way as a modosophont in the (so-called) real world.

In order to remain in character, a significant fraction of mobys are not aware that they are characters in a virtual reality simulation. Before the widespread adoption of the Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights the creation of mobys and simms was poorly regulated, and large numbers of virtual entities were created and destroyed in an often gratuitous manner without thought for their welfare. Since that time most polities in the Sephirotic Empires, and many elsewhere, have become committed to ensuring the long term well-being of all kinds of virtual entities. However even today very many mobys live an entire simulated lifetime without becoming aware of their virtual status, and only become aware of that status after their apparent death in the scenario.

Virtual reality environments in which all, or most, of the inhabitants are not aware that they are in a simuloation are often known by the disparaging term 'bottleworlds'; but many bottle worlds are acceptably comfortable environments, and mobys who leave these worlds often wish to return.

The Afterlife Problem

Since most virtual reality environments are controlled and supervised by sophont or transapient AI systems, which are expected to act according to the Universal Declaration of Sophont Rights with respect to eir virtual charges, a number of moral problems have arisen concerning the fate of virtual entities upon their death. This problem is particularly acute for mobys, which have no other form of existence. If and when a virtual being dies in the cybercosm, most or all of its data can be retrieved. Many uploads and aioid informorphs are quite accepting of the death of one of their virtual copies, especially when that deceased copy can be re-activated or merged with another instance of that dividual. But for a moby who has never known any other existence, reactivation or merging would be traumatic and confusing.

For this reason many AIs who oversee and control virtual environments maintain a form of virtual afterlife for the deceased mobys, and for simms and other virtual entities who do not have other instances who are willing to take responsibility for them. When such an entity dies in simulation, ve may be restored to life in a different environment, often reproducing the mythological afterlife that entity believed in before ver 'death'.

Sometimes the moby is restored to life with partial or comprehensive amnesia in a form of 'reincarnation'. In simulations created before the advent of the Protocols, mobys were often re-used, almost immediately after termination, simply by re-setting their memories to an earlier date. They could then be re-used in battle scenes and so on, with no memory of previous instances and without learning from past mistakes. This sort of reuse is still quite common in virtual environments outside the main Empires. It is believed to be relatively common among the virtual inhabitants of the Panvirtuality, but this is not known for certain.

Several other kinds of afterlife are available in the Sephirotic Sphere, some of which gradually introduce the moby into the wider aspects of the Terragen Civilisation. In many cases the moby or simm might choose to explore other virtual realities, either as a free virtual or as a 'leading character' in a simulated scenario.

Quite often the information comprising the moby will be stored for a length of time before re-activation in any of these fashions; this storage time may be a considerable period, and there are increasingly large numbers of mobys in storage, waiting for a suitable time and place for re-activation. And at any time each or all of these virtual entities many be inspected, analysed and recreated in modified form by the supervising AIs or transapients, depending on the status of Copy Right law in that particular jurisdiction.

The most common legal position concerning the status of mobys in the Sephirotic Empires is that they are the responsibility of the AI or transapient which creates them, but most do not become full citizens until after their apparent death in whichever cybercosm they first inhabit.

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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 06 December 2010.

Mob, Mobile, Monster- early computergame term in Wikipedia