Digi, Digital Sophont

Digi, Moby, Native-born Virtual Sophont

Image from Steve Bowers
A virtual sophont who was born or created inside a virch and has no previous existence in Real Life

Not every inhabitant of a virtual reality scenario is fully sophont, but generally the 'leading characters' are, as are many of the 'supporting cast'. Some of the leading characters are played by vusers or by uploads of various kinds, others are character simulations based on real historical people or famous fictional characters. But many other important characters in a virch can be fully sophont entities that have had no previous existence. Virtual sophonts generated in this way are generally known as digis, or digital sophonts. Another, older name that is still used in some quarters is moby, from the term mobile or mob, a term used in early computer games.

Background characters, especially those with non-speaking roles, are sometimes played by 'actor subroutines', directly controlled by the AI in control of the simulation. Other characters are played by semisentient simulations, known as simms. Quite often, during the development of a virtual reality environment, these 'actor' or 'simm' subroutines will be upgraded and become independent enough to be considered a sophont digi. Over time the number of such digis 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 digi-type virch entities who have never existed in any other substrate. In such simulations a digi 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 digis 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 digis 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 digis 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 digis 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 simulation are often known by the disparaging term 'bottleworlds'; but many bottle worlds are acceptably comfortable environments, and digis who leave these worlds often wish to return.

Birth of a Digi

Since newly-created Digis are born inside a virtual cybercosm, they are unique entities in their own right, each with their own set of characteristics. Their characteristics are determined by a number of different methods. For digis that have the characteristics of naturally-born bionts, these characteristics are determined by simulated genetics, so that the child of two virtual parents will inherit 'genes' from each parent. The expression of these virtual genes are modelled using complex algorithms, a technique which gives extremely realistic results in the Current Era. However there are many virtual cosms where the pattern of inheritance is more complicated, and a digi child might inherit characteristics from a large number of parents, or be artificially designed by entities living within that virtual world. In many ways this reflects the situation in real-life communities, where children and/or new sophonts may inherit characteristics from a large number of predecessors, or indeed be designed entirely from scratch.

Another common way for new digis to be created is by physically copying themselves within the cybercosm; this method of reproduction is also available to bionts in real life thanks to engeneration technology, but it is considerably easier inside a virtual reality scenario (even if the inhabitants are not aware of this). Often a digi living in a bottleworld will go through the process of using a (virtual) engenerator in order to copy emself, even though that is not actually necessary.

A third way for a digi to be created within a cybercosm is by re-incarnation - this, however, requires that the digi dies first (see below).

Death of a Digi

Since most virtual reality environments are created 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 digis, 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 digi 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 digis, 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 digi is restored to life with partial or comprehensive amnesia in a form of 'reincarnation'. In simulations created before the advent of the Protocols, digis 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 digi into the wider aspects of the Terragen Civilisation. In many cases the digi 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 digi 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 digis 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.

Digi Rights

The most common legal position concerning the status of digis 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. Since many virtual reality scenarios are primitive or dangerous places compared to reality, it is not possible to guarantee digis the full rights of a citizen while still inside those scenarios, but they are granted the option of becoming full citizens after their in-scenario 'death'.

Digis are one of the most numerous types of sophont living in the Terragen Sphere - many of them are descendants of uploaded bionts and aioids, while many others have been generated procedurally; a significant number of digis exist merely as data, waiting for the creation of new virtual scenarios for them to inhabit. Only a very small fraction of all digis have ever been incarnated physically, and most do not find that prospect desirable.

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

Mob, Gaming- early computer game term in Wikipedia