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Have I Got News For You about the history of AI!

After a long hiatus from this website, I am going to catch up with it all by posting only some of the things I have been up to recently!

In December I was invited to one of the most fascinating events that I have ever taken part in, on AI and Humour, organised by some of the writers of Have I Got News for You. Contributors ranged from HIGNFY’s own Jimmy Carr, to neuroscientist Sophie Scott, Piotr Mikowski, AI researcher and stand-up Comedian who performs alongside AI, as, well, myself.

I spoke about Lewis Carroll’s early ideas about AI and Comedy – as he saw making someone laugh as a divine gift, the prerequisite was to understand the workings of the soul (the “psyche”, or indeed the mind) – a process that could, he, as a mathematician, believed, fundamentally be understood in mathematical terms, and thus eventually be mechanically reconstructed (he was keen on Babbage’s experiments in doing so, and even visited the man). In the absence of this being a scientific possibility at his time (or, even now) machinated attempts at producing any form of entertainment, literature, on indeed entertaining, comedic literature, were represented in his works, as the object inducing laughter.

Much to my excitement, I not only got to talk to brilliant experts about the history of AI and automata, but also the experts of tomorrow at Canterbury’s Simon Langton School for boys. Upon the kind invitation by Dr Liz Askey, I was honoured to present the Hol Lecture, entitled “The Alice in Wonderland World of Artificial Intelligence”. Much to the intrigue of the present students, for whom the connection of literature and science at first seemed a stretch, I began the lecture with soon-to-be face of the £50 note Alan Turing’s school library record, which indicated he borrowed the collected works of Lewis Carroll, both Alice novels: Wonderland with its confusions of reality and and dream, and Looking-Glass, with its mirror worlds – but notably also the Game of Logic, not once, but three times, before he went on to compose his own “Imitation Game”. In a lively two hour workshop, student began to design the AI projects of tomorrow, from a multidisciplinary perspective of Biology, Linguistics, Philosophy, and of course Computing — a rousing, and intellectually stimulating day of which the students and their teachers kindly provided a lovely write-up, concluding “It was incredible! Two hours was not enough to discover the whole new world of Artificial Intelligence!”.

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American McGee’s ‘Alice: Madness Returns’ Special Issue of the Lewis Carroll Review now available online

By popular demand the Lewis Carroll Review Special Issue on American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns from 2011 has been made available online (all free and open access!). I hope it will be of use to researchers and enthusiasts alike!

The issue contains not only a review of the game and accompanying art book, but also an exclusive 8-page long interview (conducted by me, over curry, in London 2011), in which McGee provides some great insights into the creative process of the game design and artwork. and touches on Neo-Victorianism, Post-Colonialism, Fashion Design, History of Psychology – so I hope the text be of interest to researchers in video game studies, digital storytelling, the Gothic, Horror, and Fantasy, and of course scholars of Lewis Carroll’s Alice – and its afterlife. 

Download a copy here, on my Publications page, or via my Academia.edu profile – and if you’re interested in American’s new work on the Alice: Asylum franchise, make sure you follow his Patreon, too!

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Lewis Carroll Review Special Issue on American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns

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New TV series on famous books & their stories

A new series of TV documentaries on famous books and their origins, manuscripts and authors will be hitting the screens in early 2020 – and last week we started filming for the first episode in Oxford, which is about the origins of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – and some, perhaps unexpected, links and sources (including what the University of Oxford’s crest has to do with Alice’s dream)! I am extremely honoured to appear on it as expert alongside collector and Carroll scholar extraordinaire Edward Wakeling.

The documentary will be available on French and German Television, and online after it’s aired, for those elsewhere! I will keep you posted on broadcast dates, and where to catch up with the programme, once I know more – stay tuned!

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Children’s Literature & Ecology panel at ‘Extinctions & Rebellions’ Symposium

Just in time for the start of Extinction Rebellion’s Autumn Rebellion, our panel on Children’s Literature and Ecology has been accepted for the “Extinctions and Rebellions” Symposium at the University of Liverpool on the 16th of November.

The panel will fathom the multi-faceted role of Children’s and Young Adult Literature in addressing, digesting and communicating climate crisis across a range of periods and texts.

I will be presenting a paper entitled ‘Of Moths, Chimney-Sweepers and Silent Springs’, in which I will engage with how narrative forms for, or associated with, children have been used to articulate aspects of climate crisis and biodiversity loss, focusing on the example of insects, from the Victorian age to today. Framing this through Environmental Psychology, I will then examine their effectiveness in changing individual and social outlooks on crisis, but also their shortcomings, to show how we can harness their techniques in communicating better in our current moment of crisis.

I will speak alongside Dr Emily Alder (Edinburgh Napier) and Dr Chloe Buckley (Manchester Metropolitan), who will explore ‘Environmental crisis and children’s picture books’ and ‘Weird Ecologies, Precarity and Care in Young Adult Fiction’ respectively. We will be representing part of the ongoing work of the Edinburgh Napier-based Children’s Literature and Science research group.

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Gothic & Fantasy ECR Writing Buddy Group

A new writing group for Gothic & Fantasy ECR scholars & writers has been summoned into life by Dr Karen Graham & myself this week to bring together those of us who in the flurry of daily Stuff™ sometimes find it hard to find the space/time to write, which can also be a rather isolated/isolating exercise.

How’s this going to work? The idea is to post in the group & pair up with one or more buddy, and find a regular time-slot (anything from an hour, an hour-and a half or a writing day) to come together to write (and work on anything writing-related: be it an article, a journalistic piece, or a book). Next, arrange a quick meeting (in person, or via Skype) at the beginning, in which you set out writing goals, have your writing slot (60-90 mins), followed by, a) a quick break, and another session, or b) quick debrief at the end, where you reflect on, and evaluate progress, and set new goals – or even arrange for a subsequent swap-work-and-give-feedback session before your next writing session. I will also provide some guidance for structuring writing sessions or organise longer writing events, such as a writing retreat.

So, join, post in the group, say what you’re working on, and what sort of time-slot/regularity you’re after, connect with a buddy – and off you go! And please share!

 

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‘Timeless Alice’ – Free Public Lecture at Bodleian Library, Oxford

If you knew Time as well as I do,’ said the Hatter, `you wouldn’t talk about wasting IT!

I am thrilled to have been invited to give a free lecture at Oxford’s Bodleian Library entitled “Timeless Alice: From the fourth dimension to climate change” on the 6th of July.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains popular, indeed “timeless” – but what does this really mean? Follow Alice on a journey through Lewis Carroll’s contemplation of time, in an age of railways and theories of the fourth dimensions, and find out why that, to this day makes Carroll’s most famous novel the perfect vehicle for modern scientists to explain complex phenomena such as quantum physics, climate change and the unconscious.

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I will be joining three fantastic speakers on the day:

  • 10am: Alice’s Nightmare in Wonderland: an innovative adventure gamebook with a dangerous twist – Jon Green
  • 11am: Alice in Guinness-time: a 1960s’ advertising campaign using Lewis Carroll’s characters – Brian Sibley
  • 1pm: Alice in Fashion-land: over a century of changing trends and designs inspired by Wonderland  – Kiera Vaclavik
  • 2pm: Timeless Alice: From the fourth dimension to climate change – Franziska Kohlt

The talks are free, and will take place at the Lecture Hall of the Weston Library – seats are limited, though, so better arrive in time!

 

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Children’s Literature and Science Seminar at Edinburgh

This phenomenal-looking seminar on Children’s Literature and Science, and the many facets of the field, will be taking place this Friday at Edinburgh Napier University. I will be giving my first paper on my new research project on children’s literature and its role in environmentalism. If you’d like to attend please contact em.alder@napier.ac.uk – and definitely watch this space for more on this field from Edinburgh in the future!

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IRSCL Panel ‘The Silence of Nature: Children’s Literature and Science’

The biannual IRSCL conference “Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature” will take place at the University of Stockholm in August, and I am pleased that our panel on Children’s Literature and Science has just been accepted! It will cover ground from Morris to Moomins – and contain the following papers:

– Franziska Kohlt “Conversations with beetles: The struggle against Nature’s Silence in Victorian and contemporary CliFi for children
– Jenny Willner “Cell biology and Melancholy in the Moomin Valley: Homsan, Haeckel and the Life of Protozoa”
– Vera Kaulbarsch “Silence, Ghosts and Nature in Walter Benjamin’s Texts on Childhood”

Hope to see some of you there!

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‘Alice in Wonderland & Science’ film for University of Oxford

In August I was extremely excited to be invited to shoot a little image film about my work on Victorian fantasy literature and science at Christ Church, Oxford. Christ Church kindly let me use some of Lewis Carroll’s own manuscript materials from their collection (have a look at some of their digitised items here) – including his photographs, proofs, sketches, letters, and his dedicated presentation copy of a first edition copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! I also speak about Victorian children’s literature’s ties to Victorian Science Communication & Education, about Victorian Lunatic Asylums – and Charles Dickens’s visit to one – and how all of that can change how we think about Fantasy and Science Fiction Literature in general – I hope you like it!  

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Railways, biodiversity, agricultural history and…Through the Looking-Glass?

On the 25th of November I will be giving a talk at the Abingdon Arms, Beckley, just outside Oxford.

The occasion is not only that the award-winning Pub overlooks Otmoor, the nature reserve which some believe may have inspired Lewis Carroll’s chessboard landscape in Through the Looking-Glass (I will investigate this claim), but also the planned resurrection of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway through this area of scientific interest, which is noted especially for its biodiversity by the RSPB.

Oxford is well-known to have inspired Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), but the extensive influence of the Oxfordshire countryside on Through The Looking-Glass (1871) is less frequently discussed. My talk will therefore not only uncover some of these inspirations, from Oxford’s architecture to Oxfordshire’s agricultural history, but also illuminate how Lewis Carroll’s wider interest in nature, science and industry – and thus also the railways – shaped Through the Looking-Glass, and explore how this can help us approach and rethink contemporary challenges posed to the balance between nature and the necessities of modern life. (Announcements for the talk have appeared also here and here)

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The Looking-Glass countryside, John Tenniel

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