The Lifecycle of Software Objects

Though I've heard a lot of good things about Ted Chiang over the years, I'm ashamed by the fact that this was the first work I've read by the author. Interestingly enough, according to some The Lifecycle of Software Objects could well be Chiang's weakest short fiction work to date. And since I found this novella, Ted Chiang's longest work to date, awesome from start to finish, I reckon I should track down the author's previous short stories.

Here's the blurb:

What’s the best way to create artificial intelligence? In 1950, Alan Turing wrote, “Many people think that a very abstract activity, like the playing of chess, would be best. It can also be maintained that it is best to provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named, etc. Again I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried.”

The first approach has been tried many times in both science fiction and reality. In this new novella, at over 30,000 words, his longest work to date, Ted Chiang offers a detailed imagining of how the second approach might work within the contemporary landscape of startup companies, massively-multiplayer online gaming, and open-source software. It’s a story of two people and the artificial intelligences they helped create, following them for more than a decade as they deal with the upgrades and obsolescence that are inevitable in the world of software. At the same time, it’s an examination of the difference between processing power and intelligence, and of what it means to have a real relationship with an artificial entity

The novella follows the evolution of artificial intelligences over the course of about a decade. These digital entities known as digients were created to operate within a digital reality world and wear cute anthropomorphic animal bodies. Blue Gamma, the company behind their creation, hopes that avatars possessing genuine intelligence and have the capabilities to develop personalities as they evolve could be marketable.

The story is told through the eyes of two POV characters. Ana Alvarado, a former zookeeper, has been hired to help with the early training of the digients. Derek Brooks is a designer who creates Blue Gamma's avatars. Needless to say, both will get a lot more than they bargained for.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects is essentially a series of vignettes exploring the evolution of the digients and the repercussions of said evolution has on the lives and careers of both Ana and Derek. Every snapshot is an intimate look into the development of the digients, as the avatars grow up, learn a variety of skills as they gradually acquire knowledge and start to understand the world around them.

At some point, both Ana and Derek adopt their digients when Blue Gamma folds, and the story shifts and becomes a parallel to raising children. Psychological and ethical questions arise as both try to teach their digients responsibility. Soon, the possible emancipation of the A. I. becomes a central issue, one that they must tackle carefully.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a stimulating and thought-provoking tale of science fiction of the highest quality.

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8.5/10

For more info about this title: Subterranean Press

What's better? The novella is available in its entirety via Subterranean Magazine. Check it out! You won't regret it! =)

4 commentaires:

JRQ said...

Chiang's collection "story of your life and others" contains multiple stories that can only be described as masterpieces, and deserve to stand amongst the best SF stories ever written. It is a must-own.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Stories of your Life and Others is one of the best books I've read.
Too bad Chiang hasn't yet written a full length novel.

redhead said...

Lifecycle of Software Objects was my first Chiang as well, and I loved it.

I appreciated how it went from programming software to raising kids, to having to have difficult conversations with those "children" about jobs, and money, and sex. When does something you've created, designed, and program turn into something you raise and love?

and have you seen the XBox Kinnect animals thing for kids? digients, much?

rastronomicals said...

Chiang is phenomenal.

I would advise reading everything he's ever written. "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" might be a good start. I can't imagine anyone disliking it.