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A new book just hit the shelves, last week. Buddy's Bedtime Battery by Chirstina Geist (published by Random House) is my latest book and I want to take you behind the pages to see how the project progressed.
In Can I Build Another Me? by Shinsuke Yoshitake, a young boy comes up with a master plan to avoid doing his chores: he spends all his pocket money on a robot to take his place. “From now on, you’re going to be the new me! […] But don’t let anyone know. You must behave exactly like me.”
But in order to be exactly like the young boy, the robot needs to know everything about the person he will be imitating. All sorts of questions, exploring everything from the boy’s physical characteristics, to likes and dislikes, via feelings and much more follow. Gradually the robot builds up a fairly comprehensive picture of what the boy is like, but will the master plan to avoid chores succeed or will Mum see through the robot straight away?
This very funny, marvellously philosophical picture book offers so many opportunities for thinking about who we are, why we behave the way we do and how we can and do change over time. It’s reflective and reassuring, creating a space full of laughter to talk about feelings, hopes and friendships. Every page offers lots of opportunities for conversations, at the same time as being full of acute and humurous observations about what it can be like being a child, trying to learn how to navigate your way in the world.
Yoshitake’s illustrations, often reminiscent of comic strips, with multiple panels on each page, are full of fabulous detail offering as much to pore over as the text does. Stylishly designed with just a few colours and a great variety of pace (some pages have lots of sections, others are given over to a single spread), the relatively simplicity of the line drawings allows Yoshitake’s fantastical imagination to flourish.
An empowering, laughter-fuelled, imagination-sparking, reflection-inducing delight, Can I Build Another Me? is meaty and marvellous, silly and serious all at once. A triumph!
We don’t ever really need an excuse for making robots out of junk. Nevertheless, we gratefully took reading Can I Build Another Me? as an opportunity to get creative with old plastic boxes and the glue gun, to create a few mini-me-robots:
Whether they are really just like us or not, they definitely have a sense of personality!
As well as making mini-me-robots, we made keepsake booklets about ourselves, inspired by the questions raised by Yoshitake in his book.
We really enjoyed filling them in, and I suspect they will be great fun to look back on in a year or more, to see how our feelings about ourselves and who we are has changed.
I learned a few things about my own kids as we filled in these booklets. “I can put a whole carrot in my mouth,” wrote M…., whilst J likes DIY and ceilidhs.
If you want to have a go at making your own Can I Build Another Me? inspired booklet, click here to download the pdf file to print off (we printed the pages back to back, then folded them in half and stapled them together along the spine).
Whilst making our robots and filling in our notebooks we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading include:
If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me, featuring picture books with a philosophical theme:
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Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher. NB Although the book was translated from Japanese, no named translator is given in the bibliographic details.
With the popularity of robotics programs in schools and community groups, interest in robots and robotics is high! If you’d like to add a technological flair to your displays or booklists, consider these fun titles with high appeal for a wide range of readers:
(image taken from Penguin Random House)
Boy + Bot is a sweet and funny story that highlights friendship, kindness, and misunderstandings. When Bot’s power is accidentally switched off, he attempts to re-spark Bot with applesauce and books. When Boy falls asleep, Bot tries to rouse him with oil and by reading aloud from his instruction manual. Luckily, an inventor steps in to smooth things over.
(image taken from Penguin Random House)
Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth was one of my top favorite graphic novel reads in 2015; I am anxiously waiting for the sequel to arrive soon! Two friends befriend a friendly, entertaining, but somewhat odd boy who has literally crashed onto Earth. The characterizations of the three friends are realistic, charming, and heartwarming.
(image taken from Macmillan)
Little Robot is another fantastic robot-themed graphic novel from 2015; this nearly wordless story features an African-American girl (who lives in a trailer park) and her newly formed friendship with a robot that has crashed into her industrial town. The two pals explore and go on many adventures until the robot factory searches for its missing robot. The little girl (who is not named) is strong, courageous, and inventive, adding much needed diversity and characterization in robot-themed books!
(image taken from National Geographic)
Finally, if you want a nonfiction read for young independent readers, Robots (National Geographic Kids) should definitely be in your collection. National Geographic Kids’s nonfiction readers are highly recommended (and highly popular) for their graphic design, clear writing, and high-appeal to both reluctant and ravenous readers alike.
Do you have any favorite robot-themed books? Discuss them in the comments!
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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
If you want to learn a new job in 3 months that'll make you lots of money, this self-help author recommends animation.
The post Self-Help Author: Robots Are Taking Over So Learn Animation Before It’s Too Late appeared first on Cartoon Brew.Add a Comment
There has been much recent talk about a possible robot apocalypse. One person who is highly skeptical about this possibility is philosopher John Searle. In a 2014 essay, he argues that "the prospect of superintelligent computers rising up and killing us, all by themselves, is not a real danger".
The post Does the ‘Chinese room’ argument preclude a robot uprising? appeared first on OUPblog.Add a Comment
Can a robot be conscious? I will try to discuss this without getting bogged down in the rather thorny issue of what consciousness –– really is. Instead, let me first address whether robot consciousness is an important topic to think about. At first sight, it may seem unimportant. Robots will affect us only through their outward behavior, which may be more or less along the lines of what we tend to think of as coming along with consciousness, but given this behavior, its consequences to us are not affected by whether or not it really is accompanied by consciousness.Add a Comment
Last night I had a lot of fun speaking at The Bookstall in Winnetka about the trends of 2015, 2016, and all the 2016 books I was excited about. Afterwards a bunch of us sat down for dinner and drinks and the conversation turned, as is natural, to robots. I had mentioned in my talk earlier that as a 9-year-old I had avoided any and all books that were potentially “meaningful” and that I sometimes have to fight that same instinct today. A little later we started talking about robots. To be more specific, we were talking about what happens when you replace a word in a book’s title with the word “robot”. That’s when it suddenly occurred to me that the books I had avoided in the past would have been far more palatable to my young self, had they contained a significant uptick in robots.
Then I started thinking about adult titles. Again, robots have a tendency to make everything better.
– Robots and Prejudice
– Remembrance of Robots Past
– Robot in the Rye
The moral of the story is that I need more robots in my reading fare. Also, that silly season has officially begun and I need to start doing some more serious posts here.
For the record, I wouldn’t mind hearing some additional serious-books-improved-with-robot suggestions on either the juv or adult side of things. YA is also acceptable (after all, you cannot tell me Twilight isn’t cooler if the vampires are robots).Display Comments Add a Comment
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For a picture book about opposites to grab my attention, it has to be clever or out of the ordinary, or both. For the same old opposites to be interesting, the illustrative examples have to be engaging or new opposites need to be employed. Two of my favorite books do both. Pomelo's Opposites and Hippopposites (scroll to the bottom for more about these books) are two of my favorites. Add toAdd a Comment
We had an amazing time this past Saturday being ‘inventors!’ In this kids art class we learned about shape versus form while creating their own robot designs.
First the kids invented their robots, by creating 3 designs. I provided reference robo-parts for inspiration, and the kids came up with some very cool ideas!
We chose our favorite design and then painted a flat gray value over the robot’s shape. Since this was a 1 day workshop and not an ongoing class, we were unable to store our wet art. Luckily Mrs. Scribble had her trusty hair dryer! I dried the paintings while the students created a second artwork: designing a futuristic world for their robots to live in. They LOVED this part.
Next we added white shine, or reflected light ‘stripes’ onto our robots. I showed them how to draw the stripes always on the same side of their robot, on every robot body part. Then we added black stripes for the shadow side of the robot, on every robot part. Finally we added an outer shadow around the robots.
Value is always a challenge for young children, and even more so using paint. Generally I prefer using pastels or oil pastels when teaching value, as it is slightly more forgiving than paint. If I do this lesson again, I’ll paint a demonstration robot along with them. I also let the kids go a little wild adding color to their robots at the end, but I encourage creativity. Process is what counts, as kids learn by doing and I never want to stifle that.
View the final art below!Add a Comment
Book: Expiration Day
Author: William Campbell Powell
Age Range: 12 and up
Expiration Day is set in a dystopian near-future England a generation after fertility levels have dropped precipitously world-wide. Hardly any babies are born anymore, though most people don't realize how bad the situation is, because they parents are able to purchase uncannily lifelike robotic children. These children don't even know (unless some incident occurs) whether they are human or not.
Expiration Day is related primarily as the diary of a girl named Tania, who lives with her parents just outside of London. Tania's diary has somehow been discovered, "encrypted and forgotten, but surviving through uncounted millennia" by someone from a future alien race. His comments and responses to Tania's story are included as brief "intervals" throughout the story. The title refers to the fact that the robot children must be returned to their manufacturer on their 18th birthday - the parents have them only lease.
The world in Expiration Day is reminiscent in tone to that of P.D. James' Children of Men. In Willam Campbell Powell's world, however, the artificial children serve to keep society under control, filling an innate need that people have to form families and pass things along to a future generation (even if that generation expires at age 18).
I found the philosophical underpinnings of Expiration Day thought-provoking. And I quite liked Tania as a character. Parts of the book, which begins when Tania is only 11, drag a little bit, plot-wise. But my concern for Tania's fate kept me reading. The end includes a couple of twists (one of which I'm still trying to wrap my head around), which will keep readers guessing.
One thing that I really liked about Expiration Day was the importance of Tania's father as a character. Not a placeholder, or someone to be rescued, as is a common convention in books, but an intelligent, caring man who puts everything on the line in support of his daughter.
Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Tania's voice:
"There's a word for legs like mine. Gangly. I count my knees, sometimes, and I know I have just two, one on each leg. But dressed like that, I felt like it was more--a lot more, with different numbers on each leg." (Page 18)
"I love words, though, and I wish I could control them better. Like Humpty Dumpty, to have them line up and do my bidding. So I read, as I said, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, via Dylan Thomas and Rupert Brooke, to Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny, and try to see how they get their words to behave." (Page 182)
"Nobody truly dies who shapes another person. Does that make sense, Mister Zog?" (page 227)
Fans of speculative and dystopian fiction, particularly that which questions what makes someone human in the presence of advanced technology (like The Adoration of Jenna Fox), won't want to miss Expiration Day. Tania's participation in a band, and her issues with dating and growing up, are also addressed, and make the book accessible to those who prefer more realistic coming-of-age fiction. For those who need to know, there are discussions about having sex (including a boy who wants to), but no real action to speak of in Expiration Day. This is a book that will stay with me, and made me think. I learned about it from this review at Ms. Yingling Reads.
Publisher: Tor Teen (@TorTeen)
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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As a teenager, I often receive the label of unable: unable to make a difference; unable to make an impact; unable to make important decisions. Yet when I see two teenage girls start a non-profit organization dedicated to developing robotics programs in their community and beyond, I know the unable labels are wrong.
Stumbling across Robot Springboard was somewhat of an accident: I was actually looking into starting a non-profit organization of my own geared towards robotics community service. When I found their startlingly professional and passionate website, I knew my plans were about to change. Rather than founding a similar foundation of my own, I decided to reach out to junior fraternal twins Hannah and Rachael Tipperman and join forces with them.
Yet the Tipperman twins haven’t needed much help so far. Robot Springboard has been underway for over three years now, starting off in the summer between their ninth and tenth grade year. Most young people at this age are spending summer days lazing about in the sun by a pool but not Hannah and Rachael. In just thirty-six short months, these two ladies have managed to transform a simple idea into a fully functional non-profit organization. In 2013, the Tippermans launched a week-long robotics workshop for middle-school girls at Drexel University. After receiving an AspireIT grant from The National Center for Women and Information Technology, Hannah and Rachael contacted the computer science head at Drexel University. To their delight, the entire engineering department at Drexel was ecstatic at the idea. Within a few weeks, the camp was successfully launched.
Beyond single workshops, they have also managed to supply year-long programs. BrightStart robotics, an expansion of Robot Springboard, is geared towards younger children and their parents. Right now, they are hosting hour-and-a-half long seminars at their local library that include NXT robot kits. The kids design complete robots out of lego pieces before programming them to run through mazes using laptop computers. It is amazing what these young minds are learning and doing through this organization!
Success did not come right away for the Tipperman sisters, however. At first, they were turned down by their local library to even host a lobby display about simple robotics programs for kids. But the twins refused to be derailed. Through much sweat and toil, they are now performing monthly BrightStart robotics demonstrations at their library. Even more, the Tipperman sisters are going global this summer. After doing some research, the girls realized that Costa Rica is not involved in the FIRST Lego League—a middle-school organization geared towards having kids design Lego robots to compete in competitive games. Upon learning this, Hannah and Rachael knew they had to open a camp in Costa Rica to try and bring robotics and technology into young Costa Rican lives. They will be running not one but two camps in Costa Rica this summer.
When they’re not flying down to Costa Rica, Hannah and Rachael are reaching out nationally through their “Robotics in a Box” program. Interested customers can request a box, which includes two NXT Mindstorm robot kits, two HP laptops with included NXT software, and educational books from their NXT robot kit library.
After seeing their intentions to go national, I realized I could help Hannah and Rachael with their incredible mission. Currently, I am trying to bring Robot Springboard and BrightStart Robotics into the Colorado area. As a newcomer, I am facing the struggles that the Tipperman sisters first confronted. The NXT robot kits cost nearly three-hundred dollars apiece, not to mention the cost of laptops. But the thought of inspiring the youth through robotics programs and STEM programs keeps me going.
If you have any old laptops that have been outdated (maybe ones with a Windows XP operating system) or are of no longer of use to you, feel free to contact me at Kalin.Natalie@hotmail.com.
Also, check out the Tipperman’s inspiring website at http://www.robotspringboard.org/about-us-2/about-us.html
With these two girls, the unable label will surely disappear soon.Add a Comment
Over the last month, I’ve been working with Greg Wright on a new comic book project called “Monstrous”.
It’s got steam powered robots & monsters that span the imagination. In this pilot, we meet a little girl who has to team up with a monster for hire to avenge her father’s death. What I love about MONSTROUS, is that it has the “IT” factor that I believe will be enjoyed by young and old. It has fun moments, scary moments and head turning moments.
Sometimes I wish could just read the entire series already instead of having to create it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy working on it (trust me – it’s a blast)… it’s the fact that I have to wait on my slow butt to finish it. Ha!Add a Comment
Imagine packing up your home, leaving Earth and setting out to travel across space to colonise a new planet.
The journey will take so long you’ll be put into a cryptobiotic state. But there is absolutely nothing to fear: You’re on sleek new spaceship, looked after by a team of well-programmed robots, and everything has been carefully thought through. When you finally arrive at Nova Mundi (it only takes 199 years to get there), you’ll be woken up to a delicious breakfast and the start of a whole new and wonderful life.
It sounds great, doesn’t it?
And so it is in Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre. Astra and her family are on their way to their new home but – you’ve guessed it – something goes wrong. Astra wakes from her suspended sleep, and feeling peckish goes off in search of a chocolate biscuit.
The Nom-O-Tron (a highly developed version of Star Trek’s Replicator) satisfies Astra’s request, but when she’s tempted to ask for something a little more outlandish (how many times have you seen the word “Ultimate” used to describe a dish?) something goes awry. Soon Astra is hurtling through space surrounded by cakes which have learned to evolve. Cakes which are fed up of being eaten themselves. Cakes which have developed a killer instinct.
Will Astra be able to save her family from the Ravenous Crispy Slices and Ferocious Fruit Cakes stalking the spaceship’s corridors? How much more complicated will things get when a second front opens up and her spaceship is raided by alien life forms known as Poglites, desperately searching for their holy grail, that technology which they haven’t been able to master: SPOONS.
Yes, this is a totally surreal and deliciously outrageous story of friendship, ingenuity and hundreds and thousands.
It’s fast-moving, exciting, just ever so slightly scary in that enjoyably adrenalin pumping way and above all it’s FUNNY! Add into the mix some genuinely beautiful writing (sometimes young fiction is all about the plot and the language – especially for an adult reading it aloud – can be somewhat unremarkable, but Reeve at times writes sentences which I found myself wanting to copy out), a plot which will enthral both boys and girls of a wide age range, and the subtle inclusion of some philosophically meatier issues (the consequences of greedy desire, the demonisation of that which we don’t know and can’t name) and you’ve got yourself a remarkable book.
McIntyre’s illustrations are a crazy but perfect mix of 1950s brave new world sleekness and outrageous sponge-and-icing based fantasy. I’m delighted that Astra’s family are mixed race (this isn’t mentioned in the text at all, but how great to see some diversity just as-is, without it being an issue in the book).
The top-notch content of Cakes in Space is matched by a stunningly produced physical book. Like last year’s Reeve and McIntyre production, Oliver and the Seawigs, this is first being published as a small hardback in pleasingly chunky, strokingly hand-holdable format. Everything about the book is appealing.
After indulging in a solo read, I read this book aloud to both girls over a couple of days last week. Before we’d even finished the books my girls were off to raid the cutlery draw in the kitchen for highly prized spoons to create a collection of which any Poglite would be proud.
Carefully curated, they labelled every spoon with where it had been found in the galaxy, its rarity and its monetary value (I can see how this could develop into a Top Trumps game…)
Spoons are one thing, but cake is another, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to host our own mini Cakes in Space party. We baked a host of fairy cakes and then turned them into KILLER CAKES…
Lollies made great eyes on stalks…
… as did Maltesers and Aero balls.
We had fun making teeth out of snapped white chocolate buttons, tictacs and rice paper snipped to look like rows of sharp teeth.
We also had some Ferocious Florentines and Sinister Swiss Rolls (helped along with edible eyes).
Other characters from the book were also present: The Nameless Horror was a big bowl of wobbly jelly dyed black with food colouring and with licorice shoelaces reaching out across the table, and jars of purple gloop (thinned down Angel Delight, again dyed to give a good purple colour) with gummy snakes in them made perfect Poglite snacks. Alas these were guzzled before I got to take a photo!
Preparing for the party was at least as much fun as the party itself…
Great music for a Cakes in Space party includes:
Other activities which would make for a great Cakes in Space party include:
We’ve all heard of Death by Chocolate, but what’s the nearest you’ve come to being killed by a cake?
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Cakes in Space from the publishers.
From mechanical turks to science fiction novels, our mobile phones to The Terminator, we’ve long been fascinated by machine intelligence and its potential — both good and bad. We spoke to philosopher Nick Bostrom, author of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, about a number of pressing questions surrounding artificial intelligence and its potential impact on society.
Are we living with artificial intelligence today?
Mostly we have only specialized AIs – AIs that can play chess, or rank search engine results, or transcribe speech, or do logistics and inventory management, for example. Many of these systems achieve super-human performance on narrowly defined tasks, but they lack general intelligence.
There are also experimental systems that have fully general intelligence and learning ability, but they are so extremely slow and inefficient that they are useless for any practical purpose.
AI researchers sometimes complain that as soon as something actually works, it ceases to be called ‘AI’. Some of the techniques used in routine software and robotics applications were once exciting frontiers in artificial intelligence research.
What risk would the rise of a superintelligence pose?
It would pose existential risks – that is to say, it could threaten human extinction and the destruction of our long-term potential to realize a cosmically valuable future.
Would a superintelligent artificial intelligence be evil?
Hopefully it will not be! But it turns out that most final goals an artificial agent might have would result in the destruction of humanity and almost everything we value, if the agent were capable enough to fully achieve those goals. It’s not that most of these goals are evil in themselves, but that they would entail sub-goals that are incompatible with human survival.
For example, consider a superintelligent agent that wanted to maximize the number of paperclips in existence, and that was powerful enough to get its way. It might then want to eliminate humans to prevent us from switching if off (since that would reduce the number of paperclips that are built). It might also want to use the atoms in our bodies to build more paperclips.
Most possible final goals, it seems, would have similar implications to this example. So a big part of the challenge ahead is to identify a final goal that would truly be beneficial for humanity, and then to figure out a way to build the first superintelligence so that it has such an exceptional final goal. How to do this is not yet known (though we do now know that several superficially plausible approaches would not work, which is at least a little bit of progress).
How long have we got before a machine becomes superintelligent?
Nobody knows. In an opinion survey we did of AI experts, we found a median view that there was a 50% probability of human-level machine intelligence being developed by mid-century. But there is a great deal of uncertainty around that – it could happen much sooner, or much later. Instead of thinking in terms of some particular year, we need to be thinking in terms of probability distributed across a wide range of possible arrival dates.
So would this be like Terminator?
There is what I call a “good-story bias” that limits what kind of scenarios can be explored in novels and movies: only ones that are entertaining. This set may not overlap much with the group of scenarios that are probable.
For example, in a story, there usually have to be humanlike protagonists, a few of which play a pivotal role, facing a series of increasingly difficult challenges, and the whole thing has to take enough time to allow interesting plot complications to unfold. Maybe there is a small team of humans, each with different skills, which has to overcome some interpersonal difficulties in order to collaborate to defeat an apparently invincible machine which nevertheless turns out to have one fatal flaw (probably related to some sort of emotional hang-up).
One kind of scenario that one would not see on the big screen is one in which nothing unusual happens until all of a sudden we are all dead and then the Earth is turned into a big computer that performs some esoteric computation for the next billion years. But something like that is far more likely than a platoon of square-jawed men fighting off a robot army with machine guns.
If machines became more powerful than humans, couldn’t we just end it by pulling the plug? Removing the batteries?
It is worth noting that even systems that have no independent will and no ability to plan can be hard for us to switch off. Where is the off-switch to the entire Internet?
A free-roaming superintelligent agent would presumably be able to anticipate that humans might attempt to switch it off and, if it didn’t want that to happen, take precautions to guard against that eventuality. By contrast to the plans that are made by AIs in Hollywood movies – which plans are actually thought up by humans and designed to maximize plot satisfaction – the plans created by a real superintelligence would very likely work. If the other Great Apes start to feel that we are encroaching on their territory, couldn’t they just bash our skulls in? Would they stand a much better chance if every human had a little off-switch at the back of our necks?
So should we stop building robots?
The concern that I focus on in the book has nothing in particular to do with robotics. It is not in the body that the danger lies, but in the mind that a future machine intelligence may possess. Where there is a superintelligent will, there can most likely be found a way. For instance, a superintelligence that initially lacks means to directly affect the physical world may be able to manipulate humans to do its bidding or to give it access to the means to develop its own technological infrastructure.
One might then ask whether we should stop building AIs? That question seems to me somewhat idle, since there is no prospect of us actually doing so. There are strong incentives to make incremental advances along many different pathways that eventually may contribute to machine intelligence – software engineering, neuroscience, statistics, hardware design, machine learning, and robotics – and these fields involve large numbers of people from all over the world.
To what extent have we already yielded control over our fate to technology?
The human species has never been in control of its destiny. Different groups of humans have been going about their business, pursuing their various and sometimes conflicting goals. The resulting trajectory of global technological and economic development has come about without much global coordination and long-term planning, and almost entirely without any concern for the ultimate fate of humanity.
Picture a school bus accelerating down a mountain road, full of quibbling and carousing kids. That is humanity. But if we look towards the front, we see that the driver’s seat is empty.
Featured image credit: Humanrobo. Photo by The Global Panorama, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
http://edition.cnn.com/2014/07/16/business/lake-jibo-robot/ And there is a story there. I’m certain! Here’s another link to “JIBO” if you’re interested in seeing more, or being creeped out of your own skin. Either way, here you go: http://www.myjibo.com/Filed under: writing for children Tagged: family robots, indiegogo, JIBO, MIT, robotsDisplay Comments Add a Comment