Rise of the Machines

October 21, 2010

I’ve never spoken at an event before where they were turning people away at the door… however, I strongly suspect that this enthusiasm was more down to a wish to see Dr Kerstin Dautenhahn‘s robots than anything to do with me.

What an interesting event, too.  Organised by Sci-Fi London, and taking place in the Royal Society, the evening began with Dr Dautenhahn giving a twenty minute talk about her own research.  Afterwards, Tom Hunter led a discussion contrasting real world and science fictional robots.  Dr Dautenhahn was keen to stress that robots were neither he nor she but quite definitely it.  Whatever human traits people saw in a robots were those they brought themselves.  Contrast this with the general Science Fictional robot which is a human clad in metal.  There are exceptions, of course.  Asimov made great play of blurring the distinction, and, as Tom Hunter kindly pointed out, I did the same in my own short story “Teaching the War Robot to Dance”.

But back to the real robots…

One of the stars of the show was KASPAR, designed to study human robot interaction. (I had an interesting discussion with a roboticist before the event about the importance of studying how people approach each other.  If robots are to be accepted, they can’t simply zoom up behind people)  KASPAR has been used to work with children with autism: apparently, the children can find it easier to interact with than real people.  The plans for KASPAR are available for anyone to view, you can build a copy for around £1000.  I’ve put some pictures of the other robots on my Facebook page.

Oh, and did you know that one of the staircases in the Royal Society was designed by Albert Speer?  Honestly.  Nazis, autism, robots and Tom Hunter.  You don’t get this breadth of coverage on other blogs.


Another Point of View

March 6, 2009

Anyone wanting to write for the US market would do well to remember they don’t like head hopping over there.  By that I mean they prefer each section written from one point of view. 

And good on them, I say.  Personally, I prefer stories written in third person, past tense, strict point of view.  I don’t mind first person occasionally, but that’s it.  When I see anything else I usually suspect that the writer is using gimmicks to disguise thin content.  Strict POV is not difficult:  if you want to show another character’s thoughts, stick in a line break and start a new section.

Anyway, why mention this?  Well,  I spent yesterday working at the still untitled Twisted Metal 2, a novel set on a world populated by robots.  One of the interesting things about SF is it forces you to write from points of view you wouldn’t encounter in regular fiction.  Writing from a robot’s point of view means that many expressions can’t be used: expressions like ‘heart pounding’, ‘breathless exhaustion’ and ‘sick to the stomach’ to name but a few.  Robots don’t have hearts, stomachs and they don’t breath, so why would they use these terms?

This makes writing harder, not least in getting the reader to empathise with the characters.  But I think it makes writing more interesting.  At the very least, it avoids cliche.