Title: The Lifecycle of Software Objects
Author: Ted Chiang
Genre: Science Fiction
Recommendation: An interesting take on the life of software intelligence.
Summary: A story of Ana and Derek who work for a company that make digients - sentient technological beings that the company sells as pets to their customers. The project is a success at first, but it's not long lived, and then Ana and Derek discover what it means to be the long term digient owners.
Reactions: Ted Chiang has been a favorite author of mine ever since I've read his short story book Stories of Your Life and Others. I was excited to hear that he was writing a longer piece of fiction -- The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a novella sized effort. When I found that Subterranean press put it online for free, I started reading.
I liked the story, but I feel that it's not the author's strongest work. Part of the issue is that most novellas do a bit more in terms of plot development. I guess I expected more conflict build up and resolution. Even though objectively you could say there are both in the book, I ended up feeling that the ending let me down a little bit by being a non-solution of sorts. Some of the things I expected to see are unresolved at the end and that is disappointing.
On the other hand, there's plenty to think about in this story. It takes a pretty positive approach to AI. In some ways, I was holding my breath for a violent conflict -- software vs. humans! But the story ends up going in a very different direction and lots of interesting questions are posed about the co-existence of humans and machines as well as what a relationship between the two could be like.
I liked how Ana and Derek develop their digients and all the different types of issues that crop up. Some of them are very much like the issues of raising a child and some are entirely in the domain of software engineering, e.g. hacked frameworks and compatibility with obsolete software. As an engineer, I appreciated some of the points being made and it's clear that Ted Chiang has some experience with the software industry.
Overall, it was an interesting and thought-provoking read and I would certainly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in AIs.