Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ted Chiang's "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" (novella, free): Training AIs takes a lot of time & commitment

Cover image of the short novel The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang
Two things here that I'd not noticed in Chiang's fiction so far:
  1. Bits of it, I think somewhere near the middle, made me smile. Humor is something I don't normally associate with Chiang's work.
  2. Telling style is so much like those supremely annoying serials Star One shows at prime time: mostly characters talking to themselves & thinking things out loud. Some people have called the style of this story "descriptive" or "concept driven". May be I'd not noticed it in his fiction so far; may be I've seen too much bad TV recently. I won't call it boring - in fact, it quite interesting at many places; but it took me over a dozen sittings to finish.
Also, the story idea is a familiar one, though more detailed than versions I've seen before. See, e.g., Eando Binder's "I, Robot" (view comic book or TV adaptations) or Theodore Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God" (download comic book adaptation).

Story summary.

A company called Blue Gamma has invented potentially super-intelligent software AIs ("digients"). They're like human babies living in Data Earth, a virtual world (eventually, their alien cousins will also exist on Data Mars).

They're like souls; they need to wear a body to interact with their environment. Normally as an avatar in Data Earth; can also move to a physical robot.

This is the story of deep attachment Ana Alvarado & Derek Brooks develop for these digitants; Ana is a former zoo keeper hired to train digitants, Derek builds their digital avatars. They'll keep caring for their pet digitants over many years, long after Blue Gamma has folded up & their original software platform is obsolete.

Fact sheet.

First published: as an independent book by Subterranean Press in 2010.
Download full text from Subterranean Online.
Rating: A.
Related: Stories of Ted Chiang.


Larry said...

Cool, Ive heard good things about this author, and this story in particular was mentioned on a SFF forum.

Tinkoo said...

He's may be the best of current crop of genre authors. But his output is low - just a dozen odd stories over as many (or more) years, all of them short fiction. Most of his fiction is online; one that gets most talked about is "Story of Your Life".