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The Lifecycle of Software Objects

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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.

150 pages, Hardcover

First published July 31, 2010

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About the author

Ted Chiang

109 books8,697 followers
Ted Chiang is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan. He 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 not a prolific author, having published only eleven short stories as of 2009, Chiang has to date won a string of prestigious speculative fiction awards for his works: a Nebula Award for "Tower of Babylon" (1990), the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1992, a Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for "Story of Your Life" (1998), a Sidewise Award for "Seventy-Two Letters" (2000), a Nebula Award, Locus Award and Hugo Award for his novelette "Hell Is the Absence of God" (2002), a Nebula and Hugo Award for his novelette "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" (2007), and a British Science Fiction Association Award, a Locus Award, and the Hugo Award for Best Short Story for "Exhalation" (2009).

Chiang turned down a Hugo nomination for his short story "Liking What You See: A Documentary" in 2003, on the grounds that the story was rushed due to editorial pressure and did not turn out as he had really wanted.

Chiang's first eight stories are collected in "Stories of Your Life, and Others" (1st US hardcover ed: ISBN 0-7653-0418-X; 1st US paperback ed.: ISBN 0-7653-0419-8). His novelette "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" was also published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

As of 2013, his short fiction has won four Nebula Awards, three Hugo Awards, the John W Campbell Award, three Locus Awards, the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the Sidewise Award. He has never written a novel but is one of the most decorated science fiction writers currently working.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 719 reviews
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
April 15, 2022
Ted Chiang writes in the short form only, with this compact novella The Lifecycle of Software Objects remaining his longest work to date. I can’t help thinking though that the true potential of this story would have been better realized in a longer form, as a novel. But I’ll take what I can get as Chiang is not a prolific writer either.

Not prolific, no — but thought-provoking, certainly.
—————
This is a story of artificial intelligence and personhood and what our goals for AI are and can or should be. This is a story of obsession and sacrifice and responsibility — basically parenthood, really. The intersection between the virtual and the real, with the boundaries between the two more porous than it would seem.
“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “The Little Prince”
Creating virtual pet-like “digital entities” (digients) that are capable of developing intelligence (although initially childlike) and speech by being raised and taken care of in the manner not that different from that of human children - while looking like cute animated characters and, being software, having an option of being suspended when novelty wears off or reset to the previous checkpoint if something unwanted happens — seemed like a marketable idea, and for a while generated profits and buzz.
Then the novelty wore off, the fad passed and only a few obsessed owners stuck with their digients, continuing to raise them and care for them even as the platform that they ran on was becoming obsolete. For them digients became more than the intended virtual pets — as the years devoted to their upbringing resulted in sentient reasonably intelligent nonhuman virtual entities, persons in all senses of this word except for legal (although that can be achieved as well via incorporation — as we all learned in not so recent past, corporations are people).
“[…] If legal personhood is to be more than a form of wordplay, it has to mean granting a digient some degree of autonomy.”

“The idea of love with no strings attached is as much a fantasy as what Binary Desire is selling. Loving someone means making sacrifices for them.”
Ana is raising her digient Jax; Derek is raising Marco and Polo. And it’s not much different from raising children, although unlike child rearing, digient-rearing begs for some raised eyebrows. Derek gets a divorce, Ana knows that if forced to make a choice between her real life boyfriend and her virtual digient she would choose the “unreal” one. The former childlike pets are really teenagers now, testing the limits and craving connections as the world of their mostly abandoned digital platform constricts around them and funds needed to port them to a more populated virtual reality are only really offered by porn industry.
“Pearson nods again, his suspicions confirmed. “That’s a deal-breaker for us. It’s nice that they’re fun to talk to, but all the attention you’ve given your digients has encouraged them to think of themselves as persons.”

“Why is that a deal-breaker?” But she knows the answer already.

“We aren’t looking for superintelligent employees, we’re looking for superintelligent products. You’re offering us the former, and I can’t blame you; no one can spend as many years as you have teaching a digient and still think of it as a product. But our business isn’t based on that kind of sentiment.”

Ana has been pretending it wasn’t there, but now Pearson has stated it baldly: the fundamental incompatibility between Exponential’s goals and hers. They want something that responds like a person, but isn’t owed the same obligations as a person, and that’s something she can’t give them.”
What do we want AI for? The obvious answer is an obedient, likable and empathetic but distinctly “not a person” servant, really. But does the personhood depend on whether you are software-based or meatware-based? If the interactions and love are real, if there is sentience and intelligence and personality, if the years you devoted have raised an actual *being*, although distinctly non-human — does it matter whether the person exists in virtual space, does it cheapen your interactions, does it invalidate your love or responsibility? Are we prepared to see AI as persons, making their own decisions, choices, mistakes, transactions? Or do we want a product, convenient but safe and disposable?
“If these digients were going to be products, the potential profits might be worth the risk. But if all they’re going to be is employees, that’s a different situation; we can’t justify such a large investment for so little return.”

And if you do see AI as persons, and if you raised this person just as you would a child, if you loved and sacrificed and protected, would you be ready to let it go and have its own life?
“It’s possible he doesn’t fully appreciate the consequences of what he’s suggesting, but Derek can’t shake the feeling that Marco in fact understands his own nature better than Derek does. Marco and Polo aren’t human, and maybe thinking of them as if they were is a mistake, forcing them to conform to his expectations instead of letting them be themselves. Is it more respectful to treat him like a human being, or to accept that he isn’t one?”
I love the concept, love Chiang’s writing, love how much it made me think. But I can’t help but think that it should have gone further, continued to develop what it started, showed us more consequences of the decisions made (and not easy decisions, either).

For that, 4 stars.
——————

Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
February 7, 2017
“The practice of treating conscious beings as if they were toys is all too prevalent, and it doesn’t just happen to pets.”

“They don’t have the fight-or-flight response that animals have, nor do they have any reactions triggered by smelling pheromones or hearing distress calls, but they do have an analog of mirror neurons.”


One of the major themes of Greg Egan’s excellent hard sci-fi novel Permutation City is that there is no difference between a simulated person constructed from mathematics and the original flesh and blood person. To experiment on or delete such a person would be cruel and unethical. Ted Chiang’s The Lifecycle of Software Objects has a very similar central theme.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects is a Hugo and Locus award winning novella, first published in 2010. The story concerns virtual creatures called digients (digital entities) initially created for entertainment purposes. The digients are programmed with learning and mental development capabilities. This makes them an immediate hit among the public, soon robot bodies become available to enable the digients to interact with the real world for a while, but they are always returned to their virtual environment at the end of the day. However, like every fad, the public soon move on to other new sensations and most digients are suspended (owners stopped running the software). However, a small community of dedicated fans still continues with the “game” of raising the digients. As years go by the digients learn to read and to understand more of the real world outside, and begin to make demands as they realize there is much more to existence than frolicking about all day. Meanwhile, the digients have become a niche hobby for the few remaining enthusiasts and the virtual environment becomes almost a ghost town.

Ted Chiang’s background as a technical writer in the software industry stands him in good stead here. The technical and technological issues are knowledgeably and fascinatingly explored. For examples the more aggressive or troublesome traits of some digients are edited out of the genomes for the next generation; the physics simulation is not sufficiently advanced for simulating the chemical compounds to create tastes for the digients, so “they added parameters to stand in for a food’s taste and texture, and designed an interface for the food-dispensing software allowing users to concoct their own recipes”. Later on, the issues of porting the virtual environment to a different platform as the current one is no longer supported becomes a surprisingly dramatic development.

If you have never read Ted Chiang before the above synopsis may lead to an expectation of Terminator style killer AIs /robot uprising story, but this is not how Ted rolls. The Lifecycle of Software Objects explores the implications of AI in the form of conscious software (the robot bodies are only for the occasional trips to our world). It is all too easy to abuse such non-biological entities, if they get angry rewind them back to a point where they are not angry, torture them for fun, and suspend them when you are bored with them. However, Chiang asserts here that conscious beings, even without a heartbeat, need to be treated with respect and consideration due to any living thing. As this level of AI sophistication is nowhere in sight it may seem that this is merely a thought experiment, it is that, but the story is also an allegory for parenting and the responsibilities that entail. At what point do you recognize the child as an adult and let them make their own decisions and mistakes?


Not content with excelling in the IT department Chiang also does an excellent job of developing the main characters, both human and digital. The main digients are lovable and their personal growth is fascinating to follow. They are not quite analogs of human beings as lack of hormones means they have a different kind of psychological growth, they do have a similar range of emotions, however. The Lifecycle of Software Objects is one of Chiang’s most straightforward and accessible stories. However, it still manages to be extremely imaginative and thought-provoking with social and psychological issues that resonate. The novella length (about 50-60 pages) is just right for exploring all the ramifications of the advent of these digital creatures. I cannot praise or recommend it highly enough.

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Some background info on this story:
“Chiang’s novella, “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” grew, he said, out of his intellectual skepticism about how artificial intelligence is imagined in science fiction. Often, such computers are super-competent servants born in a lab and preprogrammed by engineers. “But what makes any human being a good, reliable worker?” he asked me. “A hundred thousand hours of good parenting, of unpaid emotional labor. That’s the kind of investment on which the business world places no value; it’s an investment made by people who do it out of love.”
From the New Yorker article, Jan, 5, 2017

Notes:
• Good news! The Lifecycle of Software Objects is still available for reading legitimately online (or you can create an e-book out of it yourself). Here is the link

• Surprisingly this novella is not included in the amazing Stories of Your Life and Others anthology, but the hardback edition can be bought at the giveaway price of less than 500 USD (USD 499.99 to be precise). Hurry while stock lasts!

• The drawings are official illustrations, they are great, but I don't know who to credit.

• The digients are like hyper-advanced Tamagotchi, but more fun. Their owners are called Trainers, but any Pokemon comparisons end there!

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Quotes:
“All the Neuroblast digients are equipped with pain circuit-breakers, which renders them immune to torture and thus unappealing to sadists. Unfortunately, there’s no way to protect the digients from things like simple neglect.”

“Blue Gamma’s philosophy of AI design: experience is the best teacher, so rather than try to program an AI with what you want it to know, sell ones capable of learning and have your customers teach them.”

“Nope. She still doesn’t understand why I don’t suspend them whenever it’s convenient.”

“Outside world dumb,” the digient announces.
Profile Image for Eh?Eh!.
367 reviews4 followers
May 2, 2011
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 people. The focus is on what makes an individual, exploring the line between caring for possessions and caring out of love, parenthood, choices. Just amazing.

I wonder if parents may perhaps not be as affected by this. Being childless myself, I've seen that raising those little people can be a messy, frustrating, crushing, exhausting, confusing, but ultimately, and hopefully, joyful series of years' long phases to teach and nurture and clean up. Compared to that, what can sere paper and ink do to match it? But, being childless, I was sucked in to this deceptively simple story. Chiang cracks me open.

At several points, the issue of suspension was mentioned,

That last was much more freeform-crazy than I meant it to be. I guess it doesn't spoiler the book, but I'll keep it tucked away in that spoiler code.

Thank you so much, Ceridwen! And Mike Reynolds, for giving it to Ceridwen! I love this.
Profile Image for Joel.
554 reviews1,622 followers
December 3, 2010
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 will very likely remind you of virtual pets: in the near-future, a company creates a breed of adorable digital creatures that exist only online in virtual worlds (it seems in the near future social networking will be less "Facebook wall" and more " elf avatars walking around" a la Snow Crash, which just sounds annoying to me and my slow internet connection). The creatures (called digients) are really advanced, and can learn and adapt and even speak, but they also need a lot of love and attention, sort of like the Tamagotchi whose screen will fill up with poop, causing him to evolve into an angry blob, if you don't pretend to take him for a walk three times a day god those were the stupidest toys.

So for a few years, digients are the hip new fad, but then most users realize that it's a lot of work caring for a pretend animal thingy, and put their programs on pause or stop using them altogether. But are the digients really pretend creatures? A select group of designer/users, who have had their digients the longest, become extremely dedicated to seeing how far they will evolve, paying for tutoring, watching real-life relationships fall apart in favor of time spent in the virtual world, and dealing with software obsolescence issues that require them to make some unsavory choices about the future of the virtual "species."

This is a book of ideas, not a book of characters -- the humans have stock personalities and conflicts that won't interest you too much, and the majority of this short book spends its time setting up a bunch of interesting what-if? scenarios that are futuristic but not far-fetched, like if a computer program could somehow be programmed to experience discomfort, would we be morally obligated to protect it from harm? What is the line between programmed intelligence and actual self-awareness -- and if a computer program is arguably as self-aware as a cat, do we have any moral responsibility toward it? Am I a total ass for making my underfed Digimon fight to the death and then abandoning them until their batteries ran out? If a software program can be programmed to love you in a sexual way, is that gross? (Yes.)



Then there's all the commentary on The Way We Live Now, i.e. wtf, internet? Because the main characters spend so much of their lives focused on and caring for these creatures (the book spans a decade) that they are hooked up to their computers virtually all the time, which seems excessive, but then there are those people who clock literal months worth of real time playing online role playing games, spending hours of time that could be spent racking up real money and life experience making fake gold and earning magical experience or however it works. Also there are huge farms of people in Asia who do nothing but earn virtual currency all day so nerds in the U.S. can pay real money for fake on eBay, and isn't that weird? Exactly how real are these interactions? How much value do they have compared to the face-to-face communication humanity has had to rely on for the last 6,000 years?

That's a lot of interesting material for a slim little book like this. It even has funny pictures. It's more fun than a litter of Pikachus.

ppp
Profile Image for Maya.
260 reviews84 followers
January 18, 2020
Two thoughts

1. Sorry, but I’m the wife character who will get a divorce because her partner spends all his time training chocobos. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a pokemaster, a tamagotchi parent and a chocobo trainer and all of these digital pets have been “suspended” and will not be reanimated in this lifetime, but I just can’t bring myself to care about “digital life forms”. The parallels to child-raising were rather funny at times, but the characters were insufferably holier-than-thou and google translate from 5 years ago already speaks better English than these supposedly advanced AI creatures and I wanted to slap them every time one of them opened its mouth. If you can use passive verb forms, you can use correct present tense sentence structure! So annoying.

2. Did the author casually throw zoophilia / bestiality at me and make the main character ruminate as to “why are we so judgmental”?? >.>
Profile Image for Gorab.
630 reviews104 followers
August 17, 2017
4.5
If an idea can be symbolised by a playing card, this is a house of cards!
A very small book in size, but the plot content is equivalent to a series of novels having 10 volumes. Crisp and compact editing. Every couple of lines moves the plot forward. And yet it retains its simplicity. Brilliant!
Though the crux is formed of artificial intelligence, it is a multi layered concept drawing parallels to and questioning various facets of human behavior... especially parenting and bonding.
Highly recommended as a quick weekend read!
Profile Image for Matt.
752 reviews523 followers
August 20, 2019
A long long time ago, when I was little and there were no computers, at least not for private use, and certainly no smart phones or any other kind of smart device, in short, when the world out there still seemed to be somewhat manageable, I owned a pet. It was no ordinary pet, though, but an orangutan.* It had red hair standing off in all directions and never to be combed, and a little white beard. Needless to say it meant the world to me.

My orangutan had long arms and short legs and wore a perpetual smile on its face, which, to me, seem to confirm that it loved being alive and with me. The smile, which was actually more like a grin, was reflected in its black and white shiny eyes that were made out of glass. Of course, it was no real orangutan. It was a plushy and my parents bought it for my fifth birthday. I had some other plushies as well, but those were just “things” that I moved around and played with, much like my toy cars and other such objects.

The orangutan was different. He was no object at all. He had his own personality and I was able to talk to him and he was able to respond. The fact that this only happened in my imagination made no difference to me at all. I don’t recall much of our conversations, but I remember that he improved and learned new things while he stayed with me. For instance our favorite TV-show at that time was Daktari, and he told me that his favorite character there was the chimpanzee called Judy (mine was Clarence, the cross-eyed lion). He said that he understood what Judy said, but for some reason he refused to tell me. Yes, we had our differences too, but most of the time we got along real well. I couldn’t imagine that things would change someday. But of course it did.

After a few years I was beginning to loose interest and our conversations became fewer and fewer and, frankly, quite boring to me. The older I got the more I realized that this ape was, in fact, not a living being, but just a toy. Looking into its eyes I couldn’t see a soul behind them anymore, the way I used to. It was still a favorite toy for a while, but one of many. You could say I had become estranged from it. It is still here, though, in my house, stacked somewhere in a cupboard. But I haven’t seen it now for many many years.

— Matt.

— Yes?

— Why are you telling all this? If there’s a point to all this blabbing feel free to come to it now.

— Well, the point is that reading Ted Chang’s story made me remember my red-haired childhood friend. That’s all. Oh, and that in all likelihood I will never accept a piece of software as a replacement for a human being, like some do in this story. At least not in the long run. I know that my attitude is opposite to the one of the protagonists here, but I don’t care.
It’s still a damn good fable!


* Writing this on the International Orangutan Day (Aug 19th) is purely coincidental.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Profile Image for Lady Nerd.
135 reviews67 followers
March 2, 2022
I'm usually a fan of Chiang's work, but this story lacked many things. For starters, it has to be his most lackluster work that I have read (and I've read quite a few). The story happens throughout many years, but the passage of time is only told to us in sentences like "It is a year later, and". I'm not a fan of present-time storytelling to begin with, and this mechanical style of writing doesn't help it at all. The "characters" are at best a bunch of people who can do no wrong, delivering speeches and engaging in conversations without having any chemistry. The plot isn't interesting either, as there is no real climax or denouement.
However, he has some interesting ideas (I'm excluding the part where he excuses bestiality) and makes you think a little bit at least. Still, expected much more of him.
Profile Image for Ankit Garg.
251 reviews346 followers
May 8, 2022
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang is a short story in the Exhalation collection of stories. It could also be considered a separate novella given its size!

It is a science fiction book involving Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and how human emotions play an important role even when mere software objects are involved.

Some of the quotes I liked:

"Low expectations are a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we aim high, we'll get better results."


"Every quality that made a person more valuable than a database was a product of experience."


Profile Image for Laurel.
497 reviews84 followers
August 14, 2012
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 journey of reading this book is as great as the wonderful conclusion. If you get a chance to sit down for an hour or two, and read this book, please do. You won't regret it!
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,975 followers
August 18, 2019
What if Tamagotchis evolved and interacted for decades, into full AIs, roaming virtual worlds, and apparently having and certainly inducing emotional bonds?


Image: Tamagotchi (Source.)

This wide-ranging, thoughtful novella’s only (slight) disappointment was a rather anticlimactic end.

A zookeeper-cum-primatologist is recruited by a software company to work with an animator to develop digients for the game world, Data Earth. They must be cute, engaging, and realistic, but without broaching Uncanny Valley.

They can be bred and trained. Nature and nurture affect them, which immediately raises questions about whether it’s wrong to neglect or actively abuse a digient, and whether it depends in part on how much free will they have to consent, and also how conscious they are as beings. What if they develop their own culture, beyond what they’re taught?

Over the years of the story, the tech improves (digients can use robot bodies to interact in the real world), but changes in consumer tastes, data markets, and the wider economy affect development in ways that broaden the story and raises questions in unexpected ways.

This story is fundamentally about human relationships with intelligent technology. Here’s a short article about real research exploring the same idea from the other side:
If you give someone a 3D head-mounted display… and “beam” her into a robot’s body so she sees the world from its perspective, you can change her attitude toward it.
Robot rights and abuse - on Vox.com

Helping people be kind to robots is one thing, but that comes at a price:
Empathizing with robots risks actually reducing our empathy for people.”
And that’s the basis of the next story in the Exhalation collection, Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny.

This story was published in Chiang’s collection, Exhalation. See HERE for my reviews of the other stories.
Profile Image for Ahtims.
1,469 reviews125 followers
September 3, 2017
4.5 stars
Was an amazing and thought provoking read.
Wouldn't have read it if Gorab had not suggested it as a weekend challenge read. I am not very fond of Scifi and the previous book of this author [[book:The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate|223379] ] failed to impress.
This one deals with digiants, a peculiar form of beings created in the cyberworld, but are slowly given human like shape and attributes, and even come out to the real earth, from the data earth they occupy, in the shell of robots.
Ana, Derek, Robyn and a few others are the human beings involved in this project. There are others working on similar projects involving Martian figurines, virtual pets, sex toys etc, but their paths seldom intersect.
Slowly Derek and Ana are drawn towards their digients, who almost seem like human children under their care, and when the time comes when their project is about to be shut down due to dwindling interest and funds, they both are forced to examine drastic options.

I totally enjoyed reading and contemplating upon the scenarios in the book, which did seem a near future possibility to me.
My head is full of bots, humans, relationships, ethics and whatnots...
Will take some time to internalise and ruminate upon the various ideas and arguments triggered by this book.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11k followers
December 6, 2010
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 of "All Time" for short stories).

The story is engaging and the plot is interesting. It involves a group of software engineers that develop a group of evolving "AI" animals/persons and a variety of ethical and emotional issues that arise as a result. Despite the high tech nature of the plot, I thought it was a credit to Chiang that the prose never got bogged down with techno-babble. I thought the "digients" (the "AI" persons) were interesting and the relationship between Derek and Ana was excellent in its subtlety.

In the end I enjoyed it and the rating (while still good) was probably held down due to the incredible expectations that Mr Chiang's earlier work have left me with whenever I see a new story by him.
Profile Image for Zahidul.
440 reviews64 followers
January 19, 2020
আর্টিফিশিয়াল ইন্টিলিজেন্স, রোবোটিক্স এবং ভার্চুয়াল রিয়েলিটি নিয়ে টেড শিয়াংয়ের চমৎকার একটি নভেলা। নিজের পড়ালেখা এবং কর্মক্ষেত্র অনেকটা এই সাইডে হবার কারণে আরো দারুণভাবে কানেক্ট করতে পড়েছি।গল্পের কনসেপ্ট বেশ ইউনিক এবং শুরুটা বেশ আগ্রহোদ্দীপক, তবে শেষের দিকে কিছুটা ফ্লাট মনে হয়েছে। আর্টিফিশিয়াল ইন্টিলিজেন্স বিষয়ক thought provoking sci-fi নিয়ে পড়তে আগ্রহী ব্যক্তিদের গল্পটি ভালো লাগবে আশা করছি।
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,923 reviews1,258 followers
July 3, 2011
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 human interaction. The digients are all capable of learning human speech, and some can even learn how to read. Yet they all develop distinct personalities, influenced by their owners.

Blue Gamma, the company that creates digients, envisions them as a hugely successful brand of sophisticated digital pet. And they are—successful, that is—for a time. The fad peaks, and the company folds, leaving two of its employees, Derek and Ana, among a small group of hardcore digient owners. These people continue to run their digients full time (instead of "suspending" the digients indefinitely), paying them visits in their Second Life-esque digital environment and interacting with them in the real world through the use of robot bodies. The relationship between the digients and their owners is similar to that between a child and a parent, but there are some notable differences. For instance, digients lack physical bodies and the corresponding hormonal changes; digients do not undergo puberty. Instead, they continue to learn and change indefinitely. Yet attempting to apply a human metric for development, as Derek soon learns, will always be frustrating, because the digients aren't human.

This is a refreshing reminder. I often get frustrated with the way some science fiction portrays artificial intelligence so inconsistently. Take Star Trek: Voyager, for example. The Emergency Medical Hologram, or as everyone calls him, the Doctor, begins the series "integrated into the sickbay systems" (that's from "The Eye of the Needle"). Eventually he acquires some slick 29th-century technology that lets him leave sickbay and even Voyager itself. Every time the Doctor goes on such a mission, there is the risk that his program will be lost—but why? Later in the series ("Living Witness") we see a backup version of the Doctor, so either they started with the capability to backup the Doctor or developed it later down the line. Either way, it seems to me that this is an aspect of artificial intelligence that science fiction often sorely neglects for the sake of storytelling: it's easy to copy a computer program.

The awareness that the digients are nothing more than complex, evolved programs underlies The Lifecycle of Software Objects. Early in the story, as the flagship digients of Blue Gamma undergo their training, one of the executives learns that a digient has picked up a profanity from a trainer. So he orders a rollback, just to be safe. Rollbacks, as the term implies, remove all memories and experiences a digient has had since the date of the rollback, essentially changing them as a person. And one of the major problems Ana and Derek must overcome is that the Second Life-esque environment where the digients live, Data Earth, has become obsolete, isolating the digients from all their friends who move on to a more advanced digital world. The digients need their engine, Neuroblast, ported to this new platform, but the cost is prohibitive. Without the port, however, the digients are confined to a private, sandbox version of Data Earth, one that only their owners visit. It's not really a life; it's a prison sentence, and all because technology has begun moving on without them.

Even if their owners persist in seeing them as more human than they are, the digients hold no such prejudice. Oh, they want freedoms, yes; Derek's two digients, Marco and Polo, yearn to become corporations so that they can have rights under the law. One of the solutions proposed to fund the porting of Neuroblast is to prostitute some of the digients to a cybersex company. The company would train copies of the digients, modifying their reward maps so that they find pleasurable what their owners find pleasurable. It's a little creepy, and Ana and Derek are very uncomfortable with it. Marco, however, decides he wants to do it:

"…I don't think you understand what they want to do."

Marco gives him a look of frustration. "I do. They make me like what they want me like, even if I not like it now."

Derek realizes Marco does understand. "And you don't think that's wrong."

"Why wrong? All things I like now, I like because Blue Gamma made me like. That not wrong."


Marco is very comfortable with the fact that he is a creation of Blue Gamma, and he is just as comfortable with the idea that he is not unique, in the sense that his program can easily be copied and redistributed:

Derek feels himself growing exasperated. "So do you want to be a corporation and make your own decisions, or do you want someone else to make your decisions? Which one is it?"

Marco thinks about that. "Maybe I try both. One copy me become corporation, second copy me work for Binary Desire."

"You don't mind having copies made of you?"

"Polo copy of me. That not wrong."


Chiang's characterization rings true: as singular beings, I think we approach the idea of digital existence with some trepidation. If I can backup my mind elsewhere, and then I suffer an accident in this body, that backup can be downloaded into another body and activated. I will survive, but it won't really be me; it will be a copy of me. Since up until now there has only ever been one of us (or at least, that's the way we perceive it), our brains aren't really equipped to handle that kind of philosophical crisis. To the digients, on the other hand, it is natural. And I think this will be true of any artificial intelligence: it will have to come to terms with its existence as software and the fact that software can be copied.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects takes place over a deceptive period of time. It seems like almost every chapter begins with some form of "another year passes", so despite its length, at least a decade elapses over the course of the story. Initially, Ana and Derek focus on protecting their digients from external threats: people who would copy and exploit their digients, and the isolation brought on by the obsolescence of Data Earth. Yet eventually, they come to realize that this protection is all well and good but also stymies the digients' growth. One day the digients will want autonomy, and part of the progress towards that autonomy involves hard work and pushing the digients to explore their capabilities. I love the closing line: "'Playtime's over, Jax,' she says. 'Time to do your homework.'"

The Lifecycle of Software Objects is in an intriguing story about raising digital life. On one level, it is a fresh look at the tropes of artificial intelligence that are becoming increasingly common in our science fiction. It includes the realities of the contemporary technology sector—the deadlines, the capitalist goals, the replacement of existing platforms with newer, better ones that might not be compatible. Overall, it contains some very smart observations about AI and the development of technology, so colour me impressed. As a novella, it feels almost the perfect length. Chiang's concepts are amazing, but his characterization is definitely Lifecycle's weakest link: too often we are told how Derek and Ana feel instead of seeing it. Although I suspect Chiang could have fleshed out his concepts and their underlying themes enough to turn this into a novel, I appreciate his circumspection and elision. This is a story painted in very broad strokes, tracing two characters whose lives intersect in a myriad of ways, and the digital creations they both hold dear.

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Profile Image for Silvana.
1,151 reviews1,118 followers
May 12, 2017
Thought-provoking. The fact that I found myself highlighting a lot of passages in my Kindle is a testament of Ted Chiang's success in making me think and sometimes even philosophizing. I don't do RPG, or that farming thing people do in Facebook, I don't know why Pokemon Go is a hit and I never have any Tamagochi pet either. I always have a dog ever since I could remember, so it was rather mindboggling reading about these characters basically devoted their lives for their virtual pets, aka digients. This includes having to spend money for the VIRTUAL pets' education, digital space and dedicate lots of time for interaction such as playing with them so they won't get bored or depressed. Umm...why?

Anyway, to each his or her own. Maybe people in the near future prefer to have everything in cyberspace. The human characters even had business meetings in a virtual room using their avatars. I guess Skype and Bluejeans (or landline) went bankrupt in this world.

Ok, back to the book. It is enjoyable to read about the progress of this digient-rearing. However when they grew up, it got uncomfortable (and gross) when reading about people's treatment on them: torture chambers and sex toys. Ick. I do not doubt it could happen though, people are crazy enough. Do you remember that Japanese guy who married an a video game character? But come to think of it, in the future, will sex involving virtual characters be accepted as a valid expression of sexuality?

And then we also have the issue of legalization of these constantly-evolving sentient digients. If they are 'incorporated' they basically have the same legal rights, can file lawsuits and be sued. We see animals been given these rights (not necessarily sentient, even). I remember in the Temeraire novels, dragons were fighting for their rights as citizens. And we have countless of stories of Androids and AIs yearning for equal treatment. If I could live with those, why can't I live with virtual beings having their rights? Does a legal entity need to be corporeal or sentience is sufficient?

Digients socializing with human in online communities. Digients who are also taxpayers and have their own property. Imagine that.

I am beginning to really enjoy Chiang's speculative fiction ideas so I will definitely read more of his stories.
Profile Image for Daniel.
694 reviews46 followers
April 13, 2019
4 stars ??? I guess. TL;DR: Very good, but maybe not so pleasant?

Well, damn.

So... I saw this cross my GR feed the other day and realized I owned it, but apparently had neglected to read it. As I've read several Chiang stories and enjoyed them, and I'm very fond of the novella as a format, this seemed like an oversight that should be rectified quickly. My point is I started reading this with no recollection of what it was about, other than the obvious clue in the title and the cover. And while my expectations were vague, what I got was outside of them.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects doesn't have the sort of the sort of neat puzzle-or-problem-meets-solution, or obstacle-overcome, goal-accomplished plot I tend to prefer. I did not find the characters particularly engaging either.

This is not another Arrival. No, if The Lifecycle of Software Objects was a movie, it would be one of those depressing documentaries about some group of people and their fucked up situation where the subjects take turns talking to the camera, recounting various events in their lives that show they really were doing their damn best, and this is just how shit is. The kind of thing you watch while detachment wars with fuck you, civilization! burn it all down! in your head.

This is hardly the first science fiction story to deal with the ethical/moral issues of artificial intelligence, but it's a damn good one.
Profile Image for somuchreading.
175 reviews251 followers
February 6, 2017
Πως λειτουργεί η ανατροφή των παιδιών, τι περιλαμβάνεται στις υποχρεώσεις της, τι σημαίνει επίγνωση, τι συνείδηση, πότε ένα άτομο αντιμετωπίζεται σαν υπέυθυνο να πάρει τις δικές του αποφάσεις;

Ο Chiang παίρνει τα tropes της επιστημονικής φαντασίας που σχετίζονται με το πως απεικονίζεται η Τεχνητή Νοημοσύνη και τα γυρνάει ανάποδα, τους δίνει ανθρώπινο πρόσωπο και μιλά για τη συναισθηματική επίδραση και φόρτιση των ανθρώπων που αλληλεπιδρούν με αυτή.

Σκοπός του δεν είναι να πει απλά μια ιστορία με AI που αποκτούν συναισθήματα και προσωπικότητα, ο Ted Chiang δε γράφει ποτέ μόνο σε πρώτο επίπεδο. Ο συγγραφέας μιλά κυρίως για τα θέματα που ανέφερα στην αρχή, για να πει πράγματα για το πως είναι για έναν γονέα να μεγαλώνει ένα παιδί που ξεκινά πάντα από το 0 και θα φτάσει να είναι ένα ισότιμο άτομο με τον ίδιο, μέσα από όλες τις δυσκολίες, τα εμπόδια και τις απογοητεύσεις.

Στην πορεία, η νουβέλα του Chiang αποδεικνύει για ακόμη μια φορά πως η επιστημονική φαντασία ακολουθεί ιστορίες που αντικατοπτρίζουν τις εμπειρίες μας, ακολουθώντας ένα φανταστικό σκηνικό, με την απόσταση της [τεχνολογικά, χρονικά, συναισθηματικά, πολιτιστικά] να βοηθά να καταγραφούν με μεγαλύτερη καθαρότητα. Η επιστημονική φαντασία του Ted Chiang και των υπόλοιπων σύγχρονων λογοτεχνών του είδους δε μας βάζει απλά ιδέες ή μας "κάνει να σκεφτούμε", αλλά ανασκαλίζει δημιουργικά το τι σημαίνει τελικά να είσαι άνθρωπος, αγγίζοντας την καρδιά των θεμάτων με τα οποία καταπιάνεται.

Μπορείτε να διαβάσετε ολόκληρη τη νουβέλα στα αγγλικά.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects: ★★★★
Profile Image for Deepu Singh.
165 reviews7 followers
December 28, 2022
Boring, so much repetitive stuff and no connection at all.
All i can say is “He sacrificed himself for us”
Had to speed read this one after giving each sentence enough i felt its not making sense or progressing.
Profile Image for Sara Mazzoni.
408 reviews108 followers
October 27, 2016
Ted Chiang parla di intelligenza artificiale e si confronta con Asimov senza batter ciglio.

L’eterna domanda «Cosa è umano?», o meglio, come decidiamo cosa è umano? nel libro di Chiang non viene posta. Il suo discorso è un altro: queste A.I. non sono umane; sono un’altra cosa. E noi umani dobbiamo rispettare la loro diversità. I personaggi s’interrogano su quali obblighi morali abbiano verso queste creature, che per altro non sono dei robot: hanno un rapporto col mondo reale che li riempie di meraviglia, ma un’identità (in)corporea nel mondo digitale a cui appartengono.

La narrazione di Chiang salta di continuo in avanti, raccontando 20 anni in un centinaio di pagine: la novella digitale che costruisce in questo modo è perfetta.
Profile Image for Srividya Vijapure.
216 reviews302 followers
September 4, 2017
An amazingly thought provoking futuristic tale, which will stay with me for quite sometime. Thank you Gorab for suggesting this wonderful book. This author is definitely going on my favourite authors list for his wonderful ability to blend reality with imagination and make it seem not only plausible but also quite therapeutic in its approach and delivery.

Worth the read and one that will lend itself to multiple interpretations each time you read it, depending on what you choose to focus upon in the story.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,050 followers
May 23, 2011
I noticed that a lot of the reviewers of this were horrified at the concepts, but as someone who knows a few crazy cat ladies in a virtual world, this didn't seem very far-fetched to me. The Lifecycle of Software Objects was nominated for both a Nebula and a Hugo this year, and I finally got around to reading it after the Nebula winners were announced. It is basically a story of what could happen if a company intent on making a profit created digients - sentient virtual pets.
Profile Image for Mohammad  Saad.
92 reviews24 followers
December 7, 2022
বইটা মূলত আমার ঘরানার না। ভার্চুয়াল জগতের আর্টিফিশিয়াল ইন্টেলিজেন্সির বিভিন্ন বিষয়াদি সুন্দরভাবে উপস্থাপন করার তরে এ দুটো তারা
Profile Image for Netanella.
4,248 reviews12 followers
March 19, 2023
I've been loving me some Ted Chiang - he communicates such complex ideas through science fiction stories, in short form - this longer novella about humans raising digients, or artificial intelligences in a digital world, over the course of decades. Themes of ethics, manipulation, corporate profitability, choice, ownership - it's all heady stuff. To a certain degree it reminded me of Brian Aldiss' Supertoys Last All Summer Long and Other Stories of Future Time.

Loved, loved this one.

Profile Image for Andreas.
482 reviews131 followers
April 20, 2020
Synopsis Ana is engaged by a software corporation to rais digients – artificial intelligence pets with a potential like human children – in virtual space. The huge initial success in the initial virtual space and commercialization of digients goes down after a couple of years and the company has to close. Some of the employees have bounded so much to their trainee digients, that they form a group and keep training the digients on the free platform.One of the employees, Derek, trains a pair of digients Marco and Polo. Derek feels attracted to Ana but doesn’t want to cheat his wife.

A couple of years later, the original platform merges with a better established one, leaving behind the digients because porting them to the new software would be too expensive and complicated. This leaves behind the beloved digients on a stale virtual world, hindering their social learning. Ana and Derek try to figure out how to finance the port, because their digients are more important to them than anything else.

Review This so far longest novella of the author was initially available only in a limited hardcover edition, heavily sought out by fans, and copies were sold for tons of money. Gladly, it is available to the public latest since the 2019 collection Exhalation.

It is clearly set in Chiang’s hometurf of software development, and everything connected to it like the porting problems are rock solid. And while artificial life is not the current innovation hype like the times of Second Life any more, artificial intelligence became even more important.

Chiang explores rigorously different angles in the development of digients, including independence, self realization, and sexuality and extrapolates how the humans would react to that – you have to find your own way because digients are not children but a new thing.

But the story is not only about the relationship of Ana, Derek and their digients, but also cares about how the humans live through their pocketed universes and traverse to middle-aged, derailed people failing with their partners.

Chiang’s prose is quiet and austere while transporting the fascination and cuteness of the digients. I found it touching and left me with lots of undefined spots where I could fill in the spots for my own, including the open ending. Maybe it resonated so much with me due to my similar education. A masterwork which I recommend reading.
Profile Image for Daniel.
1,116 reviews672 followers
February 7, 2017
Ted Chiang
The Lifecycle of Software Objects
Subterranean
150 pages
7.5

There are two kinds of my favorite writer: one who can write beautifully and enthralls me with their handsomely crafted plot and one who can fascinate me with their grand idea and execute it perfectly. Ted Chiang belongs to the latter.

Of all his other opuses that I've read, The Lifecycle of Software Objects is probably the least hardcore. The concept, while it's still full of strange words, is somehow still understandable and easy to read. The story itself still offers speculative about artificial intelligence, in the form of cute pets called digients, and what it means to have a strong relationship with an AI, to question the position of AI in real world, and everything.

While The Lifecycle of Software Objects doesn't have mindblowing twist, like Story of Your Life or Hell is the Absence of God, it still has the philosophical atmosphere about the meaning of life-existence. The conflict is barely there, as Chiang writes the story more likely to provoke our mind to think about the fate of AI. When AI has gained the same intelligence with human being, and they can express their "feeling" and everything, will that make their status become human as well? What defines human being? What defines AI? If not, do we have a right to decide for AI? In The Lifecycle of Software Objects, we will be guided by two main characters who have invested their time in these digients, and who have formed such strong bonds with them, to answer these questions. Eventually, it leads to the ultimate question: is relationship with AI something real?

The story can be read legally here.

The review can also be read here.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
June 12, 2012
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 long for an idea-based work. (Putting a bit of rather trite romantic tension which is not truly relevant to the idea, into the book, does not a novel make.)
Reading this felt exactly, precisely, like reading a feature article in Wired. It’s a report on the development of a new technology, with a bit of an ‘insider’ view to jazz things up. Of course, the tech in question is imaginary… but still. Now, this isn’t really a criticism. I subscribe to Wired, and read it cover-to-cover. (Well, except for the product advertisements… I mean ‘reviews.’) I also really like it when they speculate about future uses of technology… and that’s exactly what this story is. It may not be my favorite of Chiang’s work – but it’s still more than worth reading.
Profile Image for Maggie K.
471 reviews120 followers
September 27, 2013
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!
Profile Image for Tanya.
482 reviews266 followers
January 27, 2021
Chiang has a unique gift of condensing the most incredible ideas laden with so many possibilities into short stories—what he apparently can't do is write long form. The longest story in his first collection was by far my least favorite, and this novella-length offering, his longest to-date, confirms that trend. It's the only story of his I have ever actively disliked, it was much too technical, meandering, cold, and I felt that it went off the rails towards the end.

The story raises interesting moral considerations about AI as conscious software deserving of the same respect that's due to any living being, and serves as an allegory for the responsibilities and sacrifices one makes as a parent, but for all it tried, it didn't manage to make me care about the digients (digital entities) originally created as virtual pets. Maybe I lack the maternal instinct required to empathize, but I guess it's a good thing my parents never got me a Tamagochi.

—————

This story is also published in Ted Chiang's collection Exhalation: Stories. You can read my full review here.
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