Friday, 9 March 2012

Robots here we come! Writing for 7-9 year-old girls and boys - by Rosalie (or Sam) Warren

All signed up and ready to go!

I must say, I'm excited about my new series, recently signed up with Phoenix Yard Books, who published my Coping with Chloe last year. The series is aimed at 7-9s and it's all about robots - well, one robot in particular, who comes from Sydney, Australia and has somehow ended up in the home of Noel, a ten-year-old Coventry boy who was expecting a state-of-the-art wheelchair and instead took delivery of a robot.

The idea is to have an exciting story interspersed with plenty of robot facts - of the kind that will, I hope, appeal to the age group in question and, with luck, will pull in some reluctant boy readers. It's for this reason that I have acquired yet another name - the author of the books will be Sam Warren - the younger, geekier brother, perhaps, of Rosalie!

I'm thrilled about the series, but what's making me most excited at the moment is rediscovering AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics - subjects that have lain dormant in my brain for several years. Way back... too many years to count... I did an MSc at Edinburgh University in Artificial Intelligence and fell in love with the subject, which surprised me by focusing more on the way humans do things like learning, understanding, language processing, vision, etc, than on the machines. Or maybe that was the aspect I paid most attention to. I soon became sidelined into linguistic semantics and ended up doing a PhD on the subject of 'then'. Honestly. I knew more about 'then', for a while, than most other people on earth. I can see you're impressed (or possibly not...). I do still feel a little glow, however, every time I use the word.

But 'then' is a long way from AI and robotics, and even when I took up a lectureship at Birmingham University in the School of Computer Science, most of what I did involved linguistics (by that time I'd moved on to metaphor) and teaching various programming languages, some of which still haunt me in my dreams. (I did learn to match up the brackets, though. Helps enormously with proofreading...)

So doing the research for WIXI Robot has involved me in an exciting few weeks of catching up - reading everything I can about all that's happened in the 'field' since I slid through the gap in the fence. I'm particularly interested in the progress that robots have made in learning to speak with humans - some, but, as the guy on telly used to say, not a lot. Language understanding is, for a myriad fascinating reasons, one of the hardest tasks in AI.

I've also been thinking about some of the ethical questions concerning the possible intelligent robots of the future and this ties in, too, with the sci fi novel for adults I've just finished writing.

It's an odd feeling, when disparate parts of your life suddenly come together. Not unpleasant, necessarily, but somewhat scary. Like introducing your boyfriend to your parents for the first time. The bit of me that did AI has never met the bit of me that writes novels before. Hey Sheila, meet Rosalie. And Sam...

Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci designed robots - a robotic knight and a lion? Or that some robots run on human excrement? Or that tiny robots called nanobots can enter the bloodstream and attack cancer cells? Or... no that's enough for today. But if you have 7-9 year-old children or grandchildren (etc), or if you teach that age-group, I'd love to know what you/they think of the robot series idea. We haven't finalised all the details yet, so your ideas are welcome. And I'll tell you more about WIXI Robot soon.

Best wishes,

Rosalie Reviews (blog)
Rosalie Warren website


Jongleuse said...

Rosalie or Sam I can only say that my almost seven year old boy would ADORE this. So impressedby your expertise in the subject too!

Polly said...

I'd really like to read your thesis on 'then'! What does that say about me then?
My boys (weaned on Dav Pilkey's Mighty Mutant Mouse Robot) will be more excited by your newer work though I suspect...

Giles Diggle said...

Rosalie - You have come up with one of those great "why didn't I think of that" ideas, which I guess makes "I" so different from "AI" if you see what I mean. G.

Sue said...

This series has "hit" written all over it - so many boys and probably a few girls of that age are potty about robots with R2-D2 as the pin-up bot!

But what I think will give it an edge is your obvious enthusiasm and knowledge for the subject.

There were a few robot forays a couple of years back - at least I noticed them as my son was at that age - the Pixar (?) film "Robots" and there was a ceebeebies thing for the younger ones, Little Robots, but no books that come to mind.

Best of luck with it!

Ann Evans said...

Good luck with these books, Rosalie, It's a great idea and I hope they'll be a huge success for you. And my goodness - do you know your stuff!

Rosalie Warren said...

So pleased that you folks think the series will appeal to youngsters. Thanks for your encouraging comments.

Polly, re 'then' - sadly my thesis predated the internet, pretty much, and I'm not sure it's still available on line. But if you're really interested, could send you an article I wrote based on the thesis. (So many meanings in one little word...)

Giles, that's an interesting point. Certainly AIs are not very creative... yet. But in the future, who knows?