Sophont, sapient and sentient entities inhabiting virtual environments

Virtual Sophonts*
Image from Keith Wigdor and Midjourney AI

Virtuals encompass all sophont, sapient and sentient beings that predominantly exist entirely within virtual worlds. Many such virtual entities were originally embodied sophonts living in real, physical environments. Across the Terragen Sphere it is common for a physical sophont to spend time in virtual worlds, either by accessing a virtual avatar through their implants or by uploading their complete mindstate. However, for some, these are temporary visits, rather than the permanent state of those individuals. For others, they are born into a virtual state and remain in that state for an arbitrary length of time before becoming temporarily or permanently inactive.

It is difficult to calculate even approximately the number of active virtuals who live in the Cybercosm, in computronium databanks and vircivs, or in isolated virchworlds. Estimates range from two to four orders of magnitude more than the physical population in the Sephirotic Empires alone.

The virtual environment of the Cybercosm and all its interlinked computronium nodes and digital universes is a vast reality, or connected set of realities, peopled by countless trillions of subsentients, subturings, turings, superturings, and hyperturings, who interact with each other and with the avatars of r/l sentients who access their local virtual reality. It is probably not possible to know exactly how many virtuals there are in the compass of Terragen civilization because there are Neumann and Hider digital worlds that are not part of the Known Net, as well as encrypted and secret worlds within worlds.
The Body is Obsolete
Image from Bernd Helfert

The Early History of the Virtuals

The middle of the First Century AT (2020's and 2030s c.e.) onwards saw the growth of a new infotech industry that produced virtual agents, companions, and even employees, for home, work and play. Their virtual representation might be human or animal-like in, they might have some completely imaginary forms representation. These virtual personalities, or sims as they were called, built on developments in early artificial intelligence research. Often they had behavioural traits that made them difficult or impossible for most to distinguish from humans. Philosophers and theologians continued to debate whether the sims themselves were sentient or conscious. Similar debates were soon to revolve around the more high level ai that appeared during the middle Information Age, such as Kilburn, Mycroft, and others. Eventually "sim" came to mean a non- or sub-sentient (even if turing-like to an observer) virtual, and infomorph a fully sentient or sophont virtual or ai (for more information see the History of AI).

By the dawn of the Interplanetary Age artificial inteligences were so prevalent in society as to be taken everywhere for granted. There were even AI who could operate through telepresence or synthetic bodies, and, conversely, more and more humans were creating replicas of themselves, the early "uploads" known as evocations that would mimic their original through observed data. However it was to be some time before full uploading was perfected, to the extent that the upload was a sophont being with a level of conscious and awareness identical to the original (for more information see the History of Uploading).

Image from StableDiffusion
the visual avatar of a citizen from the Quadrilateral Vapor Orbital band

An Incomplete List of Main Phyles of Virtuals

The following is a very incomplete list of the main types of virtuals:

Virtual Aioids are aioids tailored to inhabit virch space spaces. Aside from modosophonts they include subsophont and even subsapient expert systems and intelligent and transapient beings. They may be entirely bound to the virch, or may interact with the Known Net and may help to maintain the virch environment's infrastructure. Interacting with other virtuals, with r/l sophonts who visit a virch, with subsentient programs, and with each other, they form entire cultures and societies among themselves.

Icons are the innumerable subturing and turingrade ais and agents that act as the digital or intelligent component of most household appliances, and in fact of many software and hardware devices in general. These are accessed via icons, hence the term. They often have their own simple societies and cultures, although very few ever manage to gain their freedom, nor would they want to. Being tied to physical objects, they are not true virtuals, but rather "amphibians", existing both in r/l and virch. More powerful (turingrade and superturing) icons are sometimes worshipped by the superstitious; these are known as Fetishes.

Sims are digital simulations and replicas of r/l objects and beings. They are either semi- or completely autonomous, and may be non-sentient, subturing, turingrade, or superturing. In some worlds and empires - especially the Keter Dominion and the Technorapture Hypernation, there are hyperturing simms all the way up to high singularities. Most simms serve to flesh out the virtual realities to make them more interesting for r/l sapients or former-r/l uploads to interact with; although some simms are created for research purposes.

Digis There are very large numbers of fully sophont infomorphs who were born, or otherwise created, inside a virtual environment and have never existed in the real world. These are often known as digital sophonts, or simply digis. Many digis live inside a virtual cybercosm with no connection to the outside universe, and are not aware that they are virtual entities.

Uploads and Copies: These are Former bionts or vecs who have had their brains (and often their bodies as well) scanned and turned into a digital emulation. For thousands of years uploading technology has been sophisticated enough that bionts can quickly swap between uploaded and Ril form, as easy as walking from one room and the next.

Image from StableDiffusion
A swarm of citizens of the Quint 42nd Ascended Hierarchy explore their cybercosm
Vignette: A visit to the Matterfield
"You visited the Matterfield?? Why would you go to such a backwater? " Sigmoid Darkness regarded their friend with frank astonishment " I am quite glad to see you back though!"

You know how I do enjoy charity work, Old Sigmoid" Yatima replied. E floated there, in the lower regions of the forum. "You do know the Matterfield peoples aren't one polity though? They're quite diverse for the mere 47 embodied administrative districts at the matter-level of our star system. Everything from high temperature Unkiar bots near to the sun, to the traditional water and hydrocarbon-based tweaks in the Carrauntoohil Orbitals that I visited in the outer system"
"Ah yes. I hadn't really kept the memory in my own mind. Rude of me, really."

"Don't worry about it. The citizens there just continue to insist on keeping their minds almost entirely in their material bodies. Can you imagine, still using meat and polymers as your primary method of communication? Or sound, like a meat animal from prehistory? They've got some normal messaging like us too, but I had to use their language, with some traditional drone bodies I borrowed from the locals. It was cute, really. Quite clever how they continue to rig everything together with matter, like our infrastructure does. Maybe I'll use a "meat-minds and matterfields"- themed environment at my next fundraiser."

Yatima paused while ve visualized a few designs and notes.

' assistants and I took a primitive technologies survival course- cellular fabrication, meat neuroscience, body piloting etc... and went there to do another round of development work, in the hopes that we might convince more of them to immigrate. Hopefully we'll convince enough of them that we can convert another of their orbitals into properly civilized infrastructure"

"Did you succeed?"

" I convinced a few of them at first- then managed to connect with one of the transapient governors at an economic development conference, the Hive Mountain. E sponsored us and approved fabricating a few thousand more drone bodies for temporary use by my forks. I fit right into the governor's initiative for another energy efficiency retrofit, apparently. Can you believe how wasteful they still are out there? Using physical spacecraft and fuel for personal transportation? And the way they raise food.." Yatima ((shuddered)).

"Well, our infrastructure is using the same kinds of reactors too of course...conversion... even some orbital solar panels.." Sigmoid Darkness had been inspecting the figures in detail.

"Yes, but to power the servers that host all of us and our environments! Not some backwards urban planning like they have! Did you know, the embodied nations in this system have only 1% of our total population, but collectively use 20% of the energy generated or captured? I'm polite about it when I'm around them, but they're so obsessed with "individual material rights" and 'following traditions' as if our ancestors just invented software development! it's like they never left the diaspora times." Yatima ((gestured)) wildly.

"Well you know how it is better than I do, at least until you give me your experiences - we have to respect their way of life don't we? Otherwise we're just the Diamond-net-sponsored colonialists their radicals are always talking about on their news."

-"Conversations in Hive Mountain Cyberspace Relationships" by Yatima Seventhfork, 8749 AT (local embodied time)

Image from Steve Bowers

  • Alfirk Panvirtuality Swarm  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Solipsist Panvirtuality swarm with some degree of contact with the Sephirotic Empire worlds nearby.
  • Artificials  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    generic term for any sophont of a non-biological nature [noun]
  • Auvilhuveldt, The   - Text by Worldtree
    The Auvilhuveldt formed a series of virtual worlds with non-discrete types of intelligence, nested within higher dimensional geometries. It was generally considered to be incomprehensible to outsiders.
  • Avatar   - Text by M. Alan Kazlev

  • Backup  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    A recording of the entire physical mind/body state of any entity created with the intent that it might be replicated at a later date.
  • Bottleworlds  - Text by Tony Jones
    Vast simulated environments and virchworlds where the inhabitants do not know their reality is an emulation, and may be poorly treated.
  • Carnivorettes  - Text by Tony Jones
    A virch clade descended from net spying software who inhabit data and grammar spaces, perceiving desired search items and the links between them.
  • Charactersimm, Characterbot, Charactervec  - Text by Steve Bowers
    A a semi-sentient entity programmed with elements of the personality of a celebrity, a fictional character or any other person.
  • Comparative Chronology  - Text by ProxCenBound
    Comparative chronology is the science of studying alternate possibilities and timelines, by means of large-scale simulations.
  • Computer Elves  - Text by Jorge Ditchkenberg
    Computer viruses torturing those spending too much time in virches or the Net; late Information Age to present.
  • Copy  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    An uploaded digital copy of a rl person (whether biont or vec) that experiences emself in all ways as identical to the original alpha. Also can refer to a biological copy, occupying a body with identical DNA to the original person, but differing from a clone in that the memories of the original have been transferred artificially into the new body.
  • Copy Resolution Types  - Text by Steve Bowers
    The different types of copying available to a sophont mind
  • Cybercide - Text by Max More; modified by Anders Sandberg in his Transhuman Terminology
    The killing of a virtual, which may be rl person's projected virtual persona, a copy or a simm. This may be part of an interactive or immersive virch game, or may be an act of vandalism or murder.
  • Destructive Uploading  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Reconstructing the mind of a human or other biont by disassembling their brain
  • Digi, Digital Sophont  - Text by Steve Bowers
    A virtual sophont who was born or created inside a virch and has no previous existence in Real Life
  • Dividual  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    A copy of a personality surviving in more than one body; a group of individuals sharing the same mental template, being largely isomorphic with each other (as measured by some scale).
  • Dividual Interaction Protocols  - Text by Daniel Eliot Boese
    A set of rules concerning the rights and responsibilities of dividuals (copies of an individual with identical personalities)
  • Download  - Text by Fernando Peña D'Andrea
    [1] The transfer of a virtual or a-life being or object from computronium to a physically discrete embodied state (biological, mechanical, electronic, synano, etc.);
    [2] The resulting being or object, whether sapient, sentient, living or simply existing;
    [3] The same as an upload but meaning also a "downgrade": when the new substrate matrix cannot accommodate the sentient adequately.
  • Eidolon  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Telepresence via utility fog.
  • EmotSpace Virchworlds  - Text by Kirran Lochhead Strang
    Virchworlds with six spatial dimensions and each is attached to one of the six basic emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.
  • Emulation - Text by M. Alan Kazlev after Anders Sandberg in his Transhumanist Terminology
    An absolutely precise simulation of something, so exact that it is equivalent to the original. For instance, a computer emulating obsolete computers to run their programs, or a neogen emulating an original baseline phenotype. Often used to describe a Whole Brain Emulation, that is, a successful upload of the mind of a biont.
  • Engenerator Technology  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Technology which allows uploaded personalities to be transferred into physical bodies, sometimes at interstellar distances.
  • Enhanced Uploads  - Text by Extherian
    Expanded mind emulations
  • Evocation  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Partial copy created from external data recorded in a sophont's exoself.
  • Fork  - Text by Adam Foust, in Anders Sandberg's Transhumanist Terminology
    A copy of any sophont entity, which closely resembles the original when first created. However as soon as the copy and the original begin to interact with the environment the copy will diverge from the original, folloing a separate path of develeopment (hence 'fork').
  • Gridwood  - Text by Todd Drashner
    Popular virtual environment found across the Zoeific Biopolity, as well as in cybercosms in the Red Star M'pire, Terragen Federation, NoCoZo, and Sophic League.
  • Heterochronics  - Text by Todd Drashner
    Lifeforms that are able to alter their time rate practically at will. One moment the beings are going at 1 million times our speed and then some split off and switch to 3 million for an intensive project and then split off some copies to travel on a starship at 1 million times slower than normal sophonts to make the trip go faster....
  • Hijack, Backup hijack - Text by Steve Bowers
    The crime of illegally copying an uploaded or stored personality, generally obtained during or after the backup procedure. These illegal copies can then be sold on the black market as virtual slaves, for use in computation or for entertainment.
  • Hyperbolics  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Posthuman clade descended from virtuals choosing to live in multidimensional hyperbolic virtual spaces.
  • Incarnates  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Virtual entities that have been installed into a physical, biological body.
  • Infomorph  - Text by Anders Sandberg in his Transhuman Terminology
    An uploaded intelligence, or information entity, that resides in a virtuality environment.
  • Ipsemism; Manifold Immortality  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Religion started by the virtual sophont Laron Ipsem.
  • Lynk  - Text by Todd Drashner
    Lynking - the act of linking different locations by telepresence via high-grade utility fog, often as part of an angelnet.
  • New Sol - The Sol-Multiverse  - Text by Craig Higgs
    Binary red dwarf system containing a dyson swarm and a large number of virtual and real alternate ecosystems.
  • Non-destructive Uploading  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Copying the mentality of a living biont without causing any harm to them.
  • Orion's Arms  - Text by Glen Finney
    Alternate realities simulated in virtual reality.
  • Paygeesu Virches  - Text by Daniel Eliot Boese
    Re-windable virtual reality scenarios.
  • Plebware - Text by Tony Jones
    A name given to the vast mass of 'baseline' virch, AI and alife entities to be found in software systems of various kinds all across Terragens space, usually by those who are ignorant of the truly vast diversity of the entities inhabiting these systems and who, seeing only their similarities when viewed from 'outside', are happy to lump them all together.
  • PolyCubicSpace  - Text by Addemup
    A virtual world of endless cubes within the Quint Dyson Swarm
  • Reling, Rel  - Text by Jorge Ditchkenberg
    A virtual sophont entity given a real-life body of some sort. They can take the form of almost every clade, and have limited or complete independence from the virtual(s) who built them. Includes relmonsters. Some relings, dissatisfied with the rl, return again to the virtual existence.
  • Sarcophobia  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Sarcophobia is excessive fear and disgust in the presence of flesh, especially one's own.
  • Savirs  - Text by Jorge Ditchkenberg
    Sapient Viruses or Savirs are descended both from designed computer viruses and from uploaded baselines and virtual beings.
  • Scion  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    A partial or full copy of a sophont, using the same substrate as the original.
  • Secdats, SDAs  - Text by Westcott P. Smith
    Security Data Analyst AIs, also known as "SDAs" and "Secdats", a superclade of aioids devoted to processing the vast quantities of data produced by security systems.
  • Sophtware  - Text by Tony Jones
    Colloquial term used to describe sophont to transapient level software based lifeforms whether of virtual, ai, or upload origin.
  • Sosimev  - Text by Tony Jones
    A form of sophont virch world or environment, in which software has become, or has been constructed or created to be a single sophont entity in its own right.
  • The Gods Ourselves  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Popular virch roleplaying game where the players become archai.
  • Toon - Text by Anders Sandberg
    1. A simplified representations of reality representing general classes.
    2. A simulacrum, either non-sentient or aioid, representing an archetype or story character in virtual entertainment, advertising, interactive books or other media.
  • Toonic - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Relating to toons.
  • Transitionism  - Text by Basu
    The philosophy of virtual existence and its relationship to biological intelligence.
  • Translation Metamorphosis  - Text by Tony Jones
    A problem that can arise when virch entities move from one virch environment to another is that there are beings which will be so altered by the translation that they are effectively utterly different beings in the two different virches.
  • Twotee  - Text by Tony Jones
    Twotees are virch entities that originate from a virch where the laws of physics provide for three spatial axes and two orthogonal time axes.
  • Upload  - Text by Anders Sandberg in his Transhuman Terminology
    [1] To transfer the consciousness and mental structure of a person from a biological (or other) matrix to an electronic or informational or virtual matrix.
    [2] The resulting infomorph sentient; a type of virtual.
  • Virchbuilder Packages  - Text by Tony Jones
    Types of software used to create virtual worlds.
  • VirchGods  - Text by John B
    Fairly common recreational theme for virches or some rare highly angelnetted habs, in which an ordinary sophont is empowered with 'archailect-like powers' to manipulate other sophonts, either the real thing or emulations thereof.
  • VirchMon  - Text by Sean White (terranova210486)
    Virtual/alife phylum/superclade created in the Information Age, now found almost everywhere in the Known Net.
  • Virchology   - Text by Thorbørn Steen
    A fully designed (rather than evolved) digital ecosystem residing in a virch.
  • Virchuniverse - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Generally, an aggregation or collection of thousands of interconnected virchworlds or cybercosms, all sharing the same basic ontology and lay-out, to make traveling from one to the other easier. Sometimes also used to designate a single extremely large virchworld.
  • Virchworld  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    A virtual world; usually at least partially self-contained, or apparently so, may or may not include sentient beings; generally part of a cultural community across computer/cyberspace/matrix networks.
  • Virtual Cats  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    Digital subversion organization loosely aligned with Cyberia. It emerged in the 9200's from unknown origins, announcing itself as a digital company of sociocultural mercenaries. The Cats specialize in information warfare, sophisticated political and economic subversion, memetic warfare, and whole-system perversion.
  • Virtual Drugs  - Text by Todd Drashner with some additions by Steve Bowers
    The simulation of the effects of drug use experienced via direct neural interface (or by virtual entities).
  • Virtual Gardens  - Text by James Ramsey
    A class of virtual worlds and universes created by artists and hobbyists.
  • Virtual Gibson - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Minor post-ComEmp Cyberian fastime clade found throughout the Known Net. Achieved brief fame when they established a trade pact with The Orthodox Diamond Light in 6932. They had a complex cybertheology, which involves the "giving of data" by virchdeities. It was claimed that some of their members are original infomorphs (or copies thereof) of the some of the original Interplanetary Age gibson sect, but this has never been reliably confirmed. Nothing has been heard of them since the "Case Manifesto" of 7612.
  • Virtual Haven  - Text by John Snead
    Virch clade and phyle found on over 200 worlds.
  • Virtual Kja Observance  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Vec religion in which a biological inclusion is present as a virtual representation, and so can be stored more easily and protected against dangerous environments.
  • Virtual Labyrinths  - Text by Stephen Inniss
    Virtual environments can be used to confuse or contain as easily as to educate or entertain. Virtual Labyrinths, known by a variety of names across the Terragen sphere (Subtillion Traps, Epistemogrifiers, Dreamweirs), are one of the most deadly of these forms of confusion.
  • Virtual Rights - Text by Max More in Anders Sandberg's Transhumanist Terminology
    Rights given for convenience to a partial; these rights are really rights of the person whose partial it is, rather than of the partial itself. Similar in some respects to currently existing corporate rights.
  • Virtual Sex - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Sex in virtual reality incorporating a visual, auditory, and tactile environment. The sex partner can be a real or simm person.
Related Topics
Development Notes
Text by Anders Sandberg and M. Alan Kazlev
Additional material by Steve Bowers and Dfleymmes
Initially published on 19 February 2001.

vignette added march 2022 by Dfleymmes
Stable diffusion-made images added 2022
Additional Information