The Lifecycle of Software Objects
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The Lifecycle of Software Objects

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,690 ratings  ·  251 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 150 pages
Published July 31st 2010 by Subterranean
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Joel
Dec 02, 2010 Joel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: ash ketchum
Recommended to Joel by: subterranean press
Remember virtual pets? Those little electronic animals that lived in keychains, and you had to feed them and clean up their poop

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and they were really neat for about two weeks, before everyone* realized that pressing buttons to pretend to feed and play with something is totally boring?

*except Japanese people, who apparently still buy them in great numbers, but when it comes to adorable tchotchkes, they're always outliers anyway.

Ted Chiang's novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects w...more
Eh?Eh!
I've just noticed Chiang to read him, and abruptly reached the end of his published body of work. I would like to chain him to a very large rock and make him write more. *whipcrack*

Told in present tense and skipping forward years or months, it follows the development, inevitable obsolescence, and striving for the sake of a virtual pet product called a digient. The humor is quiet and sly - I loved it. The human to human issues thread through, just enough to see the impacts of this product on peop...more
Apatt
Another home run from Ted Chiang. Almost long enough to be a novel, this is a story about AI, "sentient software", virtual creatures and our responsibility toward them. The idea is that if we are going to play gods and create sentient beings (even virtual ones) we have a moral obligation to ensure the safety and well being of the creatures we create. That they are not flesh and blood is immaterial.

The theme of responsibility for AI entities we created remind me of the "dust theory" in Permutatio...more
Stephen
3.0 to 3.5 stars. If you have seen my review of Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, you know that I think Ted Chiang is arguably the best writer of speculative short fiction working today. This is Chiang's longest work to date (at 150 pages I would call it either a very long novella or a very short novel) and while the writing was excellent, I didn't find myself having the same emotional reaction as I had to his shorter work (especially Hell is the Absence of God which is in my top 10...more
Laurel
Aug 14, 2012 Laurel rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2010
Wow - I would never have seen such a touching ending coming, from a very sci fi topic. But, that's the beauty of sci fi. A story that is able to turn a mirror on our own culture, through a fantastical concept.

On a personal note, the book beautifully demonstrates the reason why novellas are so powerful. I know that many want Chiang to transition to a longer form, but if this novella had been expanded into a novel, it would have lost its potency.

I hesitate to say more, because I think the journe...more
Ben Babcock
Anyone else remember Creatures? I played that game when I was younger … I might still have it around somewhere in a closet. Hmm, maybe I should dig it out. Because The Lifecycle of Software Objects reminded me of Creatures (albeit without the breeding). The digients in Ted Chiang's novella are artificially-intelligent software programs who begin as a genome created by software developers. The genome is just a starting place, however, and more complex traits emerge as the digients learn from huma...more
Alexandra
I read this online at Subterranean, where it originally appeared.

I found it really hard to rate this story. Not that I don't think it's an utterly incredible story - I do. But I found the very end a bit disappointing, so not for the first time I found myself longing for half-stars. And I have absolutely no idea how I missed reading it last year; I must just have completely missed the name Ted Chiang. I've finally got around to it now because it's on the Novella ballot for the Hugos - against two...more
Liviu
It is Ted Chiang it is a must is an axiom of sff short stories since nobody does them better today. The Lifecycle which is presented as a novella though it reads like a short novel since it has the depth and length for such, is no exception and despite that the subject is among the most mundane Mr. Chiang tackled in his stories and there is a lot of stuff about gaming, virtual worlds and such that usually have very little if any interest for me, I was sucked in the story and could not put it dow...more
Daniel Roy
This novella made me want to hunt down a Nintendo console and give it a long hug. The title may sound like some dry technical manual, but the story is warm, human, touching and funny. It's the best type of SF story: one that makes you think, makes you smile, and leaves you with a glimpse of deeper understanding of human nature.

Yes, it's that good.

In the near future, companies start producing digients, online AI designed as pets, kind of Tamagotchi on steroids. The novella takes us across a few y...more
Maggie K
I love reading Ted Chiang's stuff...it always seems to punch me right in the gut, in a good way. He sets up what seems to be little piece of life stories, when all of a sudden the implications of what just happened kind of smack you in the face. I LOVE stories like that.
Its hard to even get the point across of what the story is about, but just do yourself a favor and read it!
zxvasdf
This is a beautiful book. A far cry from the Tamagotchi of the 90's, the virtual creatures in this book effect the same sense of empathy one gets with domestic animals. This chronicles the digient's rise into popularity, and their eventual abandonment for better and badder virtual forms.

The digient is of rudimentary intellect, and is like a child that doesn't grow up. But if you're not shallow or heartless you can't help but love them. You might go as far as to get a robot for them to can downl...more
Claudia Piña
Al principio me pareció una idea algo chocante, eso de que la gente del futuro va por la vida conectándose a realidades alternas, con su avatar y todo y comprando mascotas y software inútil, pero es indudable que es un reflejo de ciertos grupos actuales, no solo en cuánto a las "realidades virtuales" sino en cuanto a otros temas que poco a poco aparecen. Desde estas realidades alternas (que bien podrían ser redes sociales), hasta la necesidad de conexión que tantas personas tienen y cómo la sati...more
Althea Ann
I was very excited to read this, as I’ve loved every story by Chiang I’ve ever read. “Stories of Your Life…” is one of the most excellent collections of short stories out there. However, it’s undeniable that Chiang’s work is idea-based, rather than character-based or plot-driven. He just happens to have more really good ideas than most people.
Still, I feel that his format is more suited to short stories than to longer fiction. ‘Lifecycle…” is a novella, rather than a full novel, but it’s a bit...more
Louise
I've been wanting to read something by Chiang for a while and as soon as I saw the art on the front of this book, I knew i had to read it. Unfortunately, it didn't deliver all that I wanted.

The title is both very apt and misleading. The short novel is about the life cycle of software objects, but more specifically, it's about a set of virtual pets, called digients, which develop artificial intelligence. Most of the book covers how people react to the newly introduced digients and how they get us...more
Julie Davis
I cannot believe I never mentioned this book on Goodreads since it completely blew me away when I read it originally, back when it was being distributed for people to read before Hugo voting.

Here's part of a Ted Chiang column I wrote that dealt with this novella.
After the zoo she worked at closes, animal specialist Ana Alvarado is hired as a trainer/psychologist to care for a group of "digients," virtual pets designed for a virtual-reality world. These pets have artificial intelligence and the a
...more
Hirondelle
Review in progress - sometimes it takes me days and a few edits to say what I want to say and have it sound as coherent as possible. I would rather publish drafts here as an incentive to not forget!

There is something glorious in books that make me emotional, think a lot and then not be totally sure of what was right.

But first a small rant on the physical object. I was disappointed at how hard it was to find this for sale and the price of it. Maybe the release date was wrong, because eventually t...more
A
Jan 30, 2014 A rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to A by: Alarra
This was my first experience of Ted Chiang, and it absolutely knocked my socks off. To me it is the most engaging kind of speculative fiction - the kind that feels like it's already happening right now, from someone who's involved. I did not expect to be as moved as I was by the ending either. If you are a dev, you should read this. Actually, everybody should read this.
Chris W
Wow this book created an amazing universe. I'm really sad it was so short but I enjoyed the book. Great piece of sci-fi.
Aaron
More of a series of what-if socio/science questions than a work with solid character development and plot. The lack of character was a little disappointing (and Chiang has proven before that he can be very successful in this field), but his prose is as energetic as usual so his questions concerning sentience and human nature are given the proper weight. The subtlety he employs adds great tension to his already substantial ideas, and as a result we are asked quite pertinent and freshly realistic...more
Arun
I was almost tempted to give this three stars, rather than four, but then I realized it was only because I expected more from Ted Chiang, and it wasn't delivered. If this had been written by anyone else, it would clearly be four stars from me, so... Anyway, the story felt incomplete. Not the ending, which some people might consider unsatisfying, but the story itself. It glosses over interactions that should have been explored. At points, it states, rather than shows. I think it would have been m...more
Andrea
It is natural that Asimov's Bicentennial Man come to mind. To be honest that's exactly what I was looking for: a SF novel that had the same evocative(or premonitory) power then Asimov's masterpiece.

The point of view is unusual: it is an omniscient "neutral" narrator, which speaks in third person, using the simple present; he adheres almost exclusively on what he sees or hears, remembering an observer who takes notes. The expression "I love you" only appears 2 times in the whole story: "I love yo...more
Andrewcharles420
This story is about some social implications of the beginnings of AI. Are people patient enough to mentor a developing and evolving digital creature, especially over longer periods of time and a changing technological background? How do we relate to these creatures, and how might they relate to each other? This is the story of two humans and three AIs as they navigate this landscape over the course of several years.

The narrating voice of this novella I found to be quite strange--new paragraphs...more
Matthew
There is a writing aphorism that you should show and not tell, but Chiang either has never heard of it or thinks very little of his reader's ability to interpret subtext. There's a monologue by one of the protagonists basically laying bare his Nice Guy Tragedy, and it was painful to read both because of its content and because of the absolute lack of artistry in the writing of it. Where humans attempting to interact with each other are involved, the story feels as stilted as a dancer at Carnival...more
Moonglum
I think that what makes Ted Chaing such as awesome science fiction writer is that his stories cover so many facets of the subject matter he explores: the technical, the philosophical, the ethical, the emotional.

If humans create artifical persons, what are our responsibilities to them? What are those person's rights? What kinds of evil would we perpetrate against them? What if we can re-wind them? What if we can re-jigger their minds?

This story is about those kind of ethical considerations, but...more
Dave
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang takes multi-
player virtual reality gaming to an entirely new (at least
for me) level. Not only do people's avatars interact with
each other in the virtual world, players also control sentient
objects called digients which also interact with the avatars
and each other, form relationships, learn and evolve.

Over time rival digient software engines develop as well as
competing virtual reality host environments, competition drives
out weaker systems and some...more
Ian
I bought this because it was a Hugo award winner this year. It was interesting and engrossing, but not as amazing as I'd been hoping. I've read that Chiang's other work is better - I'm looking forward to reading some of that.

As an aside it was my first Kindle purchase (on my Android tablet, not an actual Kindle). I had a generally positive experience, and the price for a novella was just right.
Elaine Nelson
Very short novel, more like a novella -- I read most of it during a lunch break. But clear, clever, delightful and thoughtful. The two protagonist develop in somewhat different but parallel ways in their relationships with each other and with the digital creatures that they adopt. The whole thing feels very naturalistic and plausible. The illustrations and faux maps are a nice touch, too.
Eduardo
I have to say that I was caught off-guard by this book. I found out about it on the wikipedia article about the movie Her (which is pretty amazing), but I was *not* expecting a novella with such intensity.
Right off the bat, it's clear that this guy know about the ins-and-outs of the software industry, there are a million clues that can attest to this fact. In general authors portray software as a quasi-magical entity, whereas I didn't feel that at all in this book!
The extrapolation of what migh...more
Scott D.
Does everything good science fiction should. I've been thinking about ever since finishing it.

Discussed with Julie D. on the A Good Story is Hard to Find Podcast:
Episode 28: The Lifecycle of Software Objects.
G33z3r
Another terrific novella from Ted Chiang. In a future virtual world, people raise "digients", cute autonomous avatars driven by a primitive AI. The more they interact with humans, the more mature the artificial critters become. Meanwhile, among their owners, there's another set of interesting human relationships playing out.
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Ted Chiang (born 1967) is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan. He was born in Port Jefferson, New York and graduated from Brown University with a Computer Science degree. He currently works as a technical writer in the software industry and resides in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of the noted Clarion Writers Workshop (1989).

Although n...more
More about Ted Chiang...
Stories of Your Life and Others The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate Exhalation Hell is the Absence of God The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling

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“Women who work with animals hear this all the time: that their love for animals must arise out of a sublimated child-rearing urge. Ana's tired of the stereotype. She likes children just fine, but they're not the standard against which all other accomplishments should be measured. Caring for animals is worthwhile in and of itself, a vocation that need offer no apologies.” 13 likes
“Experience is algorithmically incompressible.” 5 likes
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