Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Lifecycle of Software Objects

Title: The Lifecycle of Software Objects
Author: Ted Chiang
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2010

Recommendation: An interesting take on the life of software intelligence.
Rating: 8.5/10

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.


  1. I have heard so much about this book. Most seem to say, "It's blah considering is Ted Chaing." I'm gonna give it a shot, because what I've read from him in the past has been awesome. Different genres, but it's kinda like saying, "Crime and Punishment wasn't quite as good as Notes from Underground." We can't expect our favorite authors to be mind blowing amazing with every single effort; I think GGK got a lot of similar flak with some of his more recent releases. (I hope this doesn't sound like a rant, it's not supposed to be.)

    I'm actually jealous your reading The Company; I need to track down all of Parker's backlist and get to work.

  2. Yes, I think it's just a case of insanely high expectations when it comes to Ted Chiang. I guess that's the burden of being brilliant ;)

    The Company has been quite interesting so far and is exceeding my expectations. I am just about half way through, so hoping to finish the book this week and write a review.

  3. I haven't read much of Chiang's work, but what I have read has impressed me immensely and I've actually heard really good things about this one. Need to get to reading it.

  4. Well, this one is available online for free, so no reason not to start with The Lifecycle of Software Objects.