CHILDREN’S author John Magee has concerns about our use of robots in daily life and how far this might actually go.
The Omagh native tackles the topic in his latest book, I Swapped Dad For A Robot, which was released last month.
It was inspired by his thoughts on artificial intelligence and robotics, and whether it was “only a matter of time before the job of parenting is also sub-contracted in favour of a more efficient delivery model”.
The book, aimed at young readers aged eight and above, follows the story of twelve-year-old Sam Smart, who accepts the offer to swap his dad for a state-of-the-art robot.
All manner of adventures take place as readers join Sam on the hilarious events that unfold because of that choice, but the book also goes further than experiences with robots.
Hidden behind what initially appears to be Sam's cold-hearted decision to substitute his father in place of a machine, readers slowly discover that Sam is still struggling to deal with the loss of his mother to cancer.
Sam’s journey of discovery is not made alone, however, with his trusty sidekick Olivia Steele given equal billing in the book.
For Magee writing it was an opportunity to address his own concerns around the growing use of machines on our daily lives.
"Every day, we hear news about Artificial Intelligence and how robots will be transforming our lives in marvellous ways, but deep down, I can't help feeling mixed emotions,” the author admits.
“As well as feeling excited about this exciting new world, I also felt some fear and trepidation," he adds.
And while Magee is clear that screentime has its purpose, he hopes his book will provide another reason for children to divide their leisure time so that they can enjoy reading and other activities too.
"I bristle at hearing children being told that screens are bad,” he said.
“We should instead be emphasising the importance of moderation in all things.
“Each day should include physical activity, reading, writing, screen time and relaxation.”
He adds: “Screens only become problematic when they dominate to the exclusion of everything else.
"I do, of course, have a soft spot for storytelling, and I like to remind children in my school visits that no video game, movie, play or television programme can be created without someone telling a story."
I Swapped Dad for a Robot is available globally via Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Foyles, Booktopia, Blackwell's and Fishpond, priced at £3.99, £7.99 and £14.99 for e-book paperback and hardcover.