Today I’m participating in the A More Diverse Universe tour with the goal of raising awareness of authors of color who write speculative fiction. This is my first time participating and so far I’ve discovered lots of great books and bloggers. Check out the entire list of participants or visit Aarti’s blog where the tour originated.
The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (2010)
Summary: 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.
I was drawn to this book because I’m a fan of speculative fiction, I love reading about futuristic technology, and the cover was really intriguing, seeming to illustrate the connection between technology and people which is exactly what this story conveys.
The story centers on two people, Ana and Derek, who work for a company called Blue Gamma. Derek designs digients (digital entities) which are like virtual pets who exist in an online world called Data Earth which is similar to Second Life. Ana is an animal expert who is hired to help train the digients and make them appear more realistic.
What makes the digients different is that they can learn and grow. They attend classes where they learn different skills, including how to read, and they socialize with other digients. In addition, the digients can be plugged into a physical robotic body which allows them to exist in the outside world.
When Blue Gamma is forced to shut down, Derek and Ana, who have become attached to their digients, decide to adopt them. However, the shutting down of the company causes problems like finding food to feed their digients. Soon the Data Earth world also becomes obsolete and many digient owners abandon their pets.
Derek and Ana really bond over their shared passion for digients and soon they are working together to raise money to upgrade the software so their digients can continue to thrive. In order to do so, they are faced with some unique decisions regarding their digients. It is this aspect which makes the story so interesting because it makes the reader question how intelligent a robot can become and which aspects make them human. It’s also interesting to see how committed Derek and Ana are to their digients and how much their involvement with them affects their lives.
Overall this story is quite short but also packed full of information and different scenarios which really make you think. It was a little difficult for me to understand the world of the digients at first because it’s so unlike anything I could really relate to, simply because it doesn’t exist and is hard to fathom. But Chiang did a great job of explaining it and making things easy for the reader to understand.
Of course artificial intelligence exists now and its evolution into something similar to digients might not be too far away. So it’s interesting to consider questions of morality when it comes to robots as well as how they will affect their owners. If you’re interested in this subject this book is a great introduction because you won’t feel in over your head.
My Rating: ★★★★☆
About the Author
Ted Chiang is an American-born Chinese author of speculative fiction. He mostly writes short stories, novelettes, and novellas and has won numerous prizes for his work including 4 Hugos and 4 Nebulas. You can find his work online and read it for free at Free Speculative Fiction Online.