Eclipse Phase: picking up the pieces
Forking and Merging
With all of these backups of transhuman minds on fle and an abundance of mesh space on which to run them as virtual brains, one might wonder what’s to stop post-Fall transhumanity from multiplying its numbers by running additional copies of themselves.
The short answer is: nothing, aside from massive social stigma and thorny psychological issues. Taking a backup of a transhuman mind, copying it, and re-instancing it as an infomorph is called forking. It’s one of the most useful and still-controversial applications of transhumanity’s brain science.
There are four classifications of forks: alpha, beta, delta, and gamma. Though typically copied as infomorphs, there is nothing preventing a fork from being sleeved in a physical morph as well, other than legalities and custom.
An alpha fork is an exact copy of the original ego, re-instanced as a separate infomorph. An alpha fork may be created by copying and running an infomorph (from a backup, infomorph, synthmorph cyberbrain, or a removed cortical stack in an ego bridge). Alpha forks may be generated from biomorph brains using an ego bridge and the same process as uploading. Alpha forks are an exact copy of the character’s ego with all of the same skills, memories, stats, traits, personality, etc. New alpha forks must make an Alienation Test, and possibly a Continuity Test if copied from a backup.
Creating alpha forks is illegal in many jurisdictions, including most of the inner system and the Jovian Republic. In others it tends to be viewed with distaste, though there are some habitats/cultures in which it is encouraged.
Beta forks are partial copies of the ego. They are intentionally hobbled so as to not to be considered an equal to the character, for legal and other reasons. Beta forks have most of the same skills as the original ego, though sometimes reduced. Their memories are also drastically curtailed, usually tailored to whatever task they are intended to perform.
Beta forks are created by taking an alpha fork and running it through a process known as neural pruning. They are legal and even common in many places, except for bioconservative holdouts like the Jovian Republic, though delta forks are more favored. Beta forks rarely have anything resembling civil rights or citizenship and are usually treated as the property of the originating ego. They are commonly used as digital aids or to represent the original ego when communicating with others over great distances.
A beta fork’s stats are determined as follows:
- Reduce all aptitudes by 5 (to a minimum of 1). This affects all skills as well. Likewise, this reduces LUC by 10 and INIT by 2.
- Active skills have a maximum value of 60.
- Moxie is reduced to 1.
- The Psi trait is removed. At the gamemaster’s discretion, other traits may no longer apply as well.
- Additional changes may apply as determined by the neural pruning test. Beta forks take 1 minute to generate.
Delta forks are extremely limited copies of an ego. They are more akin to AI templates upon which the ego’s surface personality traits are imprinted. Also created via neural pruning, delta forks are highly functional (as competent as a beta fork or AI) but have extremely limited skills and heavily edited memories, usually to the point of being functional amnesiacs.
A delta fork’s stats are determined as follows:
- Reduce all aptitudes by 10 (to a minimum of 1). This affects all skills as well. Likewise, this reduces LUC by 20 and INIT by 4.
- Active skills have a maximum value of 40. The fork may have no more than 5 Active skills.
- Knowledge skills have a maximum of 80. The fork may have no more than 5 Knowledge skills.
- Moxie is reduced to 0.
- The Psi trait is removed. At the gamemaster’s discretion, other traits may no longer apply as well.
- Additional changes may apply as determined by the neural pruning test. Delta forks take 1 * Action Turn to generate.
More commonly known as vapors, gamma forks are massively incomplete, corrupted, or heavily damaged copies of an ego. Vapors are not intentionally created and are instead the results of botched uploads, scrambled backups, incomplete or jammed farcasts, or infomorphs/forks that were somehow damaged or went insane. It is extremely rare for anyone to purposely create a vapor for anything other than research use, although they can crop up in some interesting places.
For example, poorly made skill software occasionally includes enough of the personality traits and memories of the person the skill was taken from that it can behave in a vapor-like fashion when used.
Because vapors are anomalies rather than purposeful creations, the characteristics of individual gamma forks are left to the gamemaster. They should have some or all of the following: reduced skills, reduced aptitudes, incomplete or incoherent memories, negative mental traits, and persistent mental stress or traumas, including derangements and/or disorders.
Neural pruning is the art of taking a backup/infomorph and trimming it down to size so that it functions as either a beta or delta fork.
Beta forks are created by taking a virtual mind state that is intentionally inhibited and filtering a copy of the ego through it. Like a topiary shrub, the portions of the character’s neural network that exceed the capacities of the intended fork are trimmed away. In addition to the changes noted under Beta Forks, characters may voluntarily choose to delete/decrease skills and remove memories.
Delta forks are created by excising the ego’s surface personality traits and applying them to an AI template. In this case the ego’s memories are usually excluded entirely—it is easier to start with a blank delta fork and feed them the specific memories/knowledge they need. As with beta forks, characters making delta forks may voluntarily choose to delete/decrease skills and keep specific memories. If an alpha fork is not available to prune, a delta fork can be whipped up from a biomorph brain with an ego bridge and 1 minute. Many people sleeved in biomorphs keep delta forks on hand in storage, to whip up on the fy as needed.
Transhumanity’s grasp of neuroscience extends to scanning and copying a mind, but the most intricate workings of memory are still imperfectly understood. Making precise edits to individual portions of a neural network (to alter recollections, skills, and the like) is still a black art. The difficulty with neural pruning is that taking a weed whacker to the tree of memory isn’t an exact science. Specific memories may not be excised or chosen—at best, memories may be handled in broad clumps, typically grouped by time periods no finer than 6 months. For simplicity, most beta forks are created by removing all memories older than 1 year.
When creating a beta or delta fork, the character must make a Psychosurgery Test (other parties may make this test on the character’s behalf, representing that the character is giving them access to prune the fork appropriately). If the character succeeds, the fork is created as desired. If the test fails, the gamemaster chooses one of the following penalties for every 10 full points of MoF. Some of these penalties may be combined for a cumulative effect:
- 1 additional skill decreased by –20
- Fork acquires a Negative mental trait worth 10 CP
- Fork suffers 1d10 ÷ 2 (round up) mental stress
- Extra memory loss (gamemaster discretion; beta forks only)
- 1 Positive trait lost
Neural Pruning with Long-Term Psychosurgery
Rather than generating forks on the fly, some characters prefer to have carefully pruned forks on hand, stored as inert files that can be called up, copied, and run as needed. These forks are crafted with long-term psychosurgery, meaning that they suffer fewer drawbacks and the memories may be more finely tuned.
Long-term neural pruning requires a Psychosurgery Test as above, but with a +30 modifier. Delta forks take 1 week to prune this way, beta forks take 1 month. Additional modifications may be made to the fork using any of the normal rules for psychosurgery.
It is worth noting that some people prefer to use forks of themselves or loved ones rather than a muse. Likewise, some wealthy hyperelites are known to keep copies of their younger backups on hand, sometimes for decades, and re-instance these when their prime ego has enough skill and experience to completely outclass its younger selves. Though technically these are alpha forks, their lag behind the original ego is comparable in degree to that of a beta fork. This is rumored to be the method used by the Pax Familae in instancing her army of cloned selves.
Gamemasters are encouraged to allow players to roleplay their character’s own forks. It is important to note, however, that even with alpha forks, once the fork and originating ego diverge, they develop onward as separate people. The events that shape the primary ego’s personality, character, and knowledge will not happen—or even if they do, probably not in the same way—to the fork, and vice versa. The exact dividing line between an ego and a fork is a central philosophical and legal debate among many transhumans.
This means that gamemaster should not be afraid to pull a fork out of a player character’s hands and make them into an NPC if they start to diverge too greatly. Similarly, if a fork begins to learn information that the main character does not (yet) have access to, it is probably also better to run the fork as an NPC in order to avoid metagaming.
It is entirely possible that a fork might decide that it will no longer obey the originating ego and carry about doing its own thing. This usually only occurs with alpha forks, who are essentially a full copy anyway, and as time passes the idea of merging back with the original ego becomes unappealing. Beta and delta forks are quite aware of their nature as “incomplete” copies and so usually return back home to the ego for reintegration. In rare cases, however, even these might make a break for life on their own.
Merging is the process of re-integrating a previously spawned fork with the originating ego. Merging is performed on conscious egos/forks, transferring both to a single, merged ego. The process is not difficult to undergo when two forks have only been apart a short time. As forks spend more time apart, though, merging becomes a severe mental ordeal.
To determine if merging goes well, a Psychosurgery Test is called for (made either by the ego or another character overseeing the process). The Merging table lists modifiers for this test as well as the result of success or failure.
For synthmorphs, merging takes one full Action Turn. For biomorphs, an ego bridge or mnemonic augmentation is required to merge, and the process takes 10 minutes.
The result of the process is a unified ego, whether or not the Merging Test succeeds. Psychotherapy and psychosurgery can troubleshoot bad merges over time.
Sidebar: The Self
Forking and merging have changed the way transhumanity thinks about the self and what it means to have a well-integrated personality.
While forking is child’s play from a technological standpoint, the psychological and social effects of cloning a mind mean that most people are cautious about employing forks. Some jurisdictions ban forking outright for all but medical uses, while others have severe restrictions. In many hypercorp jurisdictions, for instance, alpha forks are illegal and letting a beta fork run for more than 4 hours without merging violates the modern descendants of 20th-century anti-trust laws. Similarly, the Jovian Junta and other bioconservatives ban forking entirely.
Disposing of unwanted forks is another thorny issue. In some places, it’s as simple as deleting them, because a stored mind has no legal status. In others, a fork that doesn’t wish to merge back with its originating ego might be accorded some rights, though these are generally only granted to alpha forks.
Most significantly, though, running a short-term fork of oneself for periods of an hour or less is an easy task for many transhumans. Many people use forks of themselves to get work done in everyday life, and almost everyone has at least experimented with forking at some point.
Transhumans view forking a bit like early 21st-century humans viewed drinking and drug use. A bit might be okay, but someone overdoing it will be stigmatized. This is because most transhumans understand the psychological consequences of overusing forks.