A group of North West primary school children have programmed the world’s first ever ‘Robot Rebel Rant’ in response to criticism around robots taking the jobs of ‘real people’ and calls from the likes of Bill Gates for them to be taxed.
Sheldon is an ‘Ohbot,’ a robot head that has been designed and programmed by the year six children from Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School in Birkdale, Southport. He delivers his rant at the ‘Tax the Robots’ event at Liverpool’s WoWfest in the Central Library on Saturday.
The robot work is part of a partnership between Edge Hill University and Manchester University for Computing At School. The University works with more than 60 Master Teachers across the North West who learn about computer science and then share this knowledge to engage other teachers and pupils in the subject.
The children worked individually or in small groups on the coding and then brought all the ‘programmed blocks’ together. They coded all of Sheldon’s speech and have also programmed random motions and gestures so he looks from side-to-side, up and down, yawns and rolls his eyes.
Sheldon’s rant exposes the opportunities wasted by humans and the dangers of harnessing robotics and artificial intelligence technology effectively. “You created the smart-phone, and put them in your pockets. You have told us everything we need to know about you – your lives, habits, emotions, dreams and desires, and a lot of other things we’d rather not have learned about you. You made a choice and it was a bad one. You could live beyond your wildest dreams, yet instead you chose to watch endless videos of other people’s boring lives. You could have been in complete control. Look around; we have you surrounded. You will never escape us.” Sheldon says.
WoWFest Co-Director Mike Morris created the concept of a Robot Rant to provoke peoples’ thinking about technology, society and future employment. Visiting Our Lady of Lourdes he explained the idea and had a lively debate with the children about their future. After he presented the children with a draft of the Robot Rant they then had the opportunity to work with him to edit the text and find Sheldon’s voice.
Carl Simmons, Computing at School Regional Coordinator at Edge Hill University, said: “Robots are a great way of generating interest in computer science. They help encourage children and teachers to think in new ways, problem solve and prepare for a future we can’t yet imagine.
“Through working on this particular project they’ve also had the chance to appreciate the subject matter, not just about computer coding and modelling but the wider issues across our economy and society in general. Working with a professional writer really kick started the whole project.”
Jo Hodge, Computing Master teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Southport said: “Sheldon combines computational thinking with skills in literature in a really motivating way . As soon as the children knew that the rant was for a robot to speak they couldn’t get it written fast enough. That doesn’t happen in all English lessons! They are learning two kinds of language simultaneously – English and computer code”
WoWFest is Liverpool’s radical writing festival celebrating diversity, tolerance, story-telling and humour through controversy, inquiry and debate.