The Lifecycle of Software Objects Hardcover – July 31, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From Bookmarks Magazine
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Hardcover : 150 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-1596063174
- ISBN-10 : 1596063173
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.75 x 8.75 inches
- Publisher : Subterranean; Deluxe Hardcover edition (July 31, 2010)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,636,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The "mistake" that a lot of us make when we think about artificial intelligence is how we imagine it to be machines becoming more human. But what we fail to account for is just how different their way of "thinking" can be over time, especially depending on their environment whether real or virtual. And this is a notion that Chiang plays around with in a manner that demonstrates how much thought he has put into things. And there's a heck of a lot more to deal with.
The team deals with all the problems of a cutting edge programming team with a new product and just how quickly technology changes. In a short span of years we watch them rise and fall as companies fold, demands change and technologies continue to push forward. And all through this we see how people deal with their Digients or perhaps stop dealing with them as the months become years.
Do you ever think about your older gaming console and how you tired of it as newer versions were released? What about the virtual pet you may have adopted on some website or specialized device? Or even the last time you played a particular game that was all the rage before but is now a "classic" somewhat past its time? The Digients face a lot of these problems as user interests shift to more interesting or even just newer products.
There's also a bit of a love story in this book, but it's sort of a sad one given you wish the persons involved were more forceful about their feelings. But then again, we are talking about the types of people who are drawn to caring for animals, computer programming and related design work, which aren't always the most social of fields.
The book ends on a somber note - you get some sense of closure but you do wish that there was more to follow. Despite the brevity of this book, you can't help but get completely drawn into the lives of these characters, especially the Digients, and thus wonder what is going to happen next for all of them. Throw in the beautiful artwork of Christian Pearce (including the cover), that add a certain degree of tangibility for the Digients and their story - or perhaps their plight?
The Lifecycle of Software Objects clearly has a lot of thought put into it and will make you think even more after you've read through it. It's a truly original and novel piece of fiction and I do look forward to reading more of Chiang's work in the future.
In the story, Ana Alvarado is a former zoo keeper who takes a job with a software company, Blue Gamma. The company is designing intelligent software objects to be pets in Data Earth, a sort of Second Life digital reality where people interact through avatars on various continents. These pets are called digients (digital entities) and they are designed to be cute and fun. But more, they are able to learn and grow, so the owner is able to experience the satisfaction of caring for something that will provide lots of positive feedback.
Ana develops a friendship with Derek, an animator who designs the animal-based bodies of the digients. They both adopt digients and become quite attached to their software entities. The digients are more than mere pets (they can talk fairly quickly) but less than real children (they are not biological), which brings up many of the dilemmas and conundrums that the owners have to face. As with many start-up companies, the initial successful years lead to decline and dissolution. The company's last act is to make the "food creating" software available to the few owners who want to continue running their digients (most people have just turned theirs off). The owners face a new challenge when Data Earth also becomes obsolete and the digients have no other people to interact with in the virtual reality. The need to port the digients to the new system becomes more critical as the digients become more aware of their own environment and their own desires for a fulfilling life.
The story is full of many wonderful and interesting ideas. The exact nature of the digients is ambiguous. Are they persons in their own right or merely self-developing software? How important should they be in a person's life? Having gone through a cycle of attachment and abandonment with primates at the zoo, Ana is reluctant to give up her digient and wants to do what's best for him and the other digients. Which means she may have to make sacrifices for him. But should she?
Her on-going relationship with Derek is also a source of interesting ideas. They seem "made for each other" but he's married at the beginning of the story. Can they just be friends? Will their friendship over the digients hurt their significant others? When conflicts arise, should they support each other (and their digients) at the cost of their real world relationships? Chiang develops these ideas without providing pat answers or obvious conclusions. Like in real life, situations become difficult and the need for compromise and understanding becomes paramount.
I really enjoyed this book and will probably re-read it after having some time to process the ideas. I did read it on my Android phone's Kindle app, which worked well except for the occasional maps which were too small to read on the three-inch phone screen. I have loaned the book to my wife on her Kindle and the maps are just as small and hard to read on a regular Kindle. The other art is fine.
For more insightful commentary on the book, check out Julie and Scott's A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast.
As one reviewer (chewie133) observed, there are logical holes in the story. That didn't bother me. It nonetheless rings true; the kinds of things that happened are, I think, quite likely to happen in our lifetimes.
A caution--this is best enjoyed by folks who have some understanding of software development, platforms, and AI. You needn't be in the field, just kind of technically-oriented IMHO.
I really liked it. At about 30,000 words I thought it was fairly priced and will recommend it to friends.
Top reviews from other countries
I recommend that you buy it, because the author deserves his royalties, but it's also available online for free on the publisher's website, which is how I read it. But I have now bought it too. The book has some illustrations in it that aren't online.