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Exclusive Interview with will.i.am and Brian David Johnson on ‘Wizards and Robots’

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Think about it: “Magic is just science you don't understand yet.”

The creative teaming of singer-music producer will.i.am. and futurist-author Brian David Johnson seems as likely a pairing as, say, wizards and robots, but the coming together of the former duo has resulted in the creation of a graphic novel and potential universe focused on the latter.

Wizards and Robots 300x450 Exclusive Interview with will.i.am and Brian David Johnson on Wizards and Robotswill.i.am may be known primarily as the driving force behind the Black Eyed Peas as well as a producer who has worked with numerous artists, but he’s also obsessed with technology and the idea of getting kids involved in that world; to encourage them to not just make technology a part of their daily lives, but to want to get involved in its creation and evolution.

For his part, Johnson is a resident futurist of Intel (which is where the two creative partners met) who is focused on seeing where we are going in terms of computing. He is also the author of a number of books on the subject, among them Science Fiction Prototyping: Designing the Future With Science Fiction, Vintage Tomorrows: A History and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology (with James H. Carrott) and next year’s 21st Century Robot: The Dr. Simon Egerton Stories.

Wizards & Robots will be published by IDW in March of next year, and feature the art of Adam Archer (Batman: Arkham City,Ratchet and Clank) and is officially described as follows: “When an army of futuristic robots journeys through time and space in search of ancient, powerful wizards, the fate of the world will hang in the balance, and a wealth of volatile secrets will be uncovered.”

Here, will.i.am and Brian David Johnson discuss exclusively with Geek the genesis of this project:

GEEK: The basic place to start would be the beginning in the sense of how this whole thing came together.

WILL.I.AM: We met at Intel, working there and just geeking off of all of the things at Intel that we’re doing and the consultation and the exciting world of microprocessors and chip sets, and geeking out on what computers and chips will be 100 years from now. During an interview, I saw this vision of robotics juxtaposed against humanity and the rate that we’re educating kids. A couple of weeks after that interview…

BRIAN DAVID JOHNSON: We had sat down and talked and I told Will about this project I was doing about robotics; I was doing real work on some 21st Century robots, thinking what that might look like, was publishing books on it and we totally started geeking out on it and digging in to it. We started having a chat about it and Will had an idea.

WILL.I.AM: I do a lot of philanthropy, encouraging kids to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and math in inner-cities. So a couple of weeks after that I called Brian with an idea: “The book that you wrote [on robotics] is amazing. Let’s do a book together, but a comic graphic novel called Wizards and Robots, and here’s what it is.” The idea was that wizards from the future go back to when humanity was thriving with intelligence and ability, manipulating matter and particles and the science of quantum physics, and these robots have to go and find these wizards to… Well, I don’t want to spoil it [laughs].

BRIAN DAVID JOHNSON: The whole thing started on Halloween in Will’s living room in 2011. Literally, it was just the two of us spending most of the day mapping out this world, thinking about what it could be like and just riffing. That’s really where it started, and we collaborated on it a couple of times. It was pretty much just a personal project, the two of us working together, kind of imagining what would this world be like based on real robotics. What would this world be like if the “magic” was actually quantum physics? We do a lot of work with quantum physicists, we do a lot of work with social scientists, we do a lot of work with people who know all of this stuff, so we pulled all of that science into the story.

GEEK: Which does raise a particular question. When you hear the title “Wizards & Robots,” the first impression you get is something like Harry Potter vs. a Terminator.

BRIAN DAVID JOHNSON: Wait until you meet our wizards. That’s the thing for us, we wanted it to be what if the world of quantum mechanics, what if the world of quantum physics, was made visual?

WILL.I.AM: When you think of the Harry Potter world, it hits you as fantasy, because you don’t really know who makes his wand. You don’t know what company makes that stick, or what company is responsible for the apps that cause spells. Then when you think about these things [picks up a tablet], you take it for granted. You look at as normal because you know AT&T, you know Apple and Samsung, you know the folks who make Google Maps. You use Google, so you don’t look at that as fantasy, because it’s reality.

GEEK: But 100 years ago these things would have seemed like magic.

BRIAN DAVID JOHNSON: The line we came up with is that magic is just science you don’t understand yet.

WILL.I.AM: So when you start putting science behind wizardry, and spells and entanglement and teleportation and cloaking and force fields and all of these manipulating  of energy and frequency, and you have robots, how do you compete with that? If you didn’t know that science, how do you defend yourself? If you were a human and here comes a robot, who’s going to defend us against that?

GEEK: The wizards.

BRIAN DAVID JOHNSON: That’s not the interplay, but there is the idea that you have these robots that have come back from the future who are fighting these ancient wizards and their war — between the wizards and the robots — is in our time. Human beings are trying to figure it out.

GEEK: We’re caught in the middle of this war.

BRIAN DAVID JOHNSON: You’ll have to wait until March 2014 to find out.

To dig into the roots of this unusual collaboration, check out this vintage video from Intel that reveals the duo’s mutual interests.

Images: IDW Publishing and Edward Gross

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