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The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

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"The Lifecycle of Software Objects" is a 2010 science fiction novella by Ted Chiang. It is about the hard, and sometimes sad, lives of Artificial Intelligence software objects known as Digients.

Raise Your Hand If You Are Alive

I work as a software engineer, so maybe this story has more meaning for me than it will for you. However, if you have ever created something, and poured your heart and soul into it, then you will certainly be able to identify with "The Lifecycle of Software Objects". The same goes for people who spend a lot of time living and playing in online virtual worlds. (In fact, reading this story so intrigued me that I signed up for a free Second Life account just to enrich my reading experience!) Hmm… perhaps this story will appeal to more people than I thought. Let’s just say that it will probably be enjoyed by the following types of people: engineers, geeks, MMORPG players, parents, kids, people with hobbies – oh all right, just about everybody!

Non-spoiler Summary in a Nutshell

021/365 Robot by t0msk, CC 2.0 license

Ana has been offered a new job – one which she will probably enjoy given her zookeeper background. But this job has nothing to do with animals, instead it is helping a software company create lovable artificial intelligences called Digients. She and her co-worker Derek invest a lot of time creating and teaching the Digients, so they are both heart-broken when the company eventually folds. The two of them, along with a handful of customers, spend the next several years raising, teaching, training and learning about their Digients. Oh sure, there are plenty of rewards – like seeing the Digients get involved with online dance coreography, but there are a lot of rough patches too. It finally comes down to the question of whether the Digient owners will be able to move their creations along with the blistering pace of technology, and what happens if they can’t.

My Two Cents…

  • The characters in "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" are great! Ana, Derek, the Digients, all the people that work at the various companies – very believable. Excellent work!
  • The Digients were very cool. Although this is not a completely unique idea in science fiction, I did like seeing how things changed over time for the artificial intelligences and how they dealt with it.
  • This is not an “action packed” or “exciting” story – it is a long term look at how AI evolves and the effects it has on other areas of life. If you enjoy that kind of stuff then you’ll love this story, but if you are more of a “shoot-em-up” kind of person then you may not like this story so much.
  • I enjoyed how the story also followed the lives of the human owners of the Digients – it really showed how humans can be affected by artificial intelligences.
  • This story is really freakin’ long! In fact, it reads more like a short novel than a story. No problem, it is divided into chapters so take your time and savor it – I read it over the course of a week and really enjoyed not being rushed.

Interesting Tidbits:

  • Page Count: 65
  • Word Count: 30,838
  • Be sure to check out Boing Boing’s interview with Ted Chiang, in which he talks a little bit about writing "The Lifecycle of Software Objects".
  • Special thanks to SF Signal for pointing out where to get this great story for free!

Where You Can Find The Lifecycle of Software Objects:

Craving More Science Fiction Short Stories?

If you liked "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" then you might also enjoy these 4 stories – which are all about intelligent robots who want more from life: