Jun 8, 2010

Covering Covers: The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

Awwww, cute little robot fetus...

July 2010 will see the release of The Lifecycle of Software Objects from Subterranean Press. At 144 pages, it's Ted Chiang's longest work to date. If you aren't aware who Ted Chiang is, he's the guy who has more major awards than he has examples of published work. Not counting Lifecycle, Chiang has published 11 stories. Those stories have won a combined 4 Nebulas, 3 Hugos, 2 Locus Awards, a Thedore Sturgeon Memorial Award, a Sideways Award, and a BSFA. Not to mention the 1992 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. 

Spoiler Alert: Chiang is a good writer.

I personally wouldn't be suprised if there is a Chiang novel out there, hidden in the same facility as the garbage powered car, the Ark of the Covenant, and the good versions of the Star Wars prequels. It can't be released for the sake of the collective dignity of science fiction authors worldwide. They just wouldn't be able to cope.

Anyway, back to The Lifecycle of Software Objects. You know why you should read it, but what would you be reading? Here's the summary:

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.
Look for a review of this one as soon as I can get my hands on it.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, seriously. Impressive. I am now absolutely hooked on this guy. Mhm, I'm wondering, if he ever gets that novel published, whether something in our culture will shift.


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