wizards and robots

Will.i.am explores technology through comic book

November 18, 2013: 2:07 PM ET

On Wizards & Robots: "The magic comes from quantum physics."

By John Gaudiosi

130917142845-40u40-will-i-am-620xaFORTUNE -- In a marriage made at Intel Corp., the Black Eyed Peas frontman Will.i.am has partnered with futurist Brian David Johnson on a new comic book, Wizards & Robots. Both the multi-talented entertainer and the futurist work with Intel (INTC) in different capacities, and it's their introduction there that led to the creative collaboration that has crafted a transmedia take on comics. The prequel to the IDW Publishing graphic novel trilogy, The Hope Algorithm, which is available free through the creators' Tumblr (YHOO) site, made its debut at New York Comic Con last month. The first graphic novel, which features art from Batman: Arkham City artist Adam Archer, launches in March 2014.

"The idea [for Wizards & Robots] came from Brian's work around robotics and my work around science, technology, engineering and mathematics for inner city kids," said the Black Eyed Peas frontman (given name: Will Adams). "I was concerned about the lack of funding we have in education in inner cities, juxtaposed against the advancement in robotics and micro processing."

Adams's living room on Halloween 2011 was the birthplace for this new universe, which focuses on robots from the future that come back and do battle with a group of wizards. What separates this comic from other sci-fi works, besides its creators, is that it's based in reality. "It's based on real robotics and the magic is from quantum physics," said Johnson, who tracks the breakthroughs in modern-day robotics. "We've really started designing robots so they could possibly have emotions. We design them to actually act like and interact with people."

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The comic is set in the present day: elements such as how time travel could occur are explained for readers, and there's even a new language created for and included in the story. Adams and Johnson worked together on it outside of Intel to build this universe, which they hope will eventually expand with the help of others. "We wanted to make sure that we gave real contextual details on what the story is about before launching the graphic novel so that anybody else, whether it's film or video games, that wants to collaborate and turn this into different media properties has a greater sense of what our vision is for Wizards & Robots," said Adams.

In fact, one offshoot of the universe has already become reality. New York Comic Con also saw the debut of 200 Kaku robot sculptures. Technology, which is a driving force within the fictional universe, played a key role in bringing the miniature sculptures and the larger-scale replica that was featured at the Intel Comic Con booth to life.

"Four months ago I was emailed a rendering of Kaku, and now he's real," said Adams, referring to the robot historian from the year 3000 that's a central character in the story. "All that creativity and collaboration used to just be in our heads and now it's come to life." Adams refers to the phenomenon of technology democratizing the creative process: "We call it VAVADA, which is Visual, Audio, Virtual to Actual, Digits to Atoms. It's the power of VAVADA right now in society."

In addition to action figures, Adams is excited about the video-game potential for this new universe. He previously worked with Microsoft (MSFT) and Ubisoft (UBSFY) on the Kinect Xbox 360 dance music game, The Black Eyed Peas Experience. "The computational power in today's video games are just amazing," he said. "I grew up with a joystick in my hand.  I grew up with Atari 2600.  To see the level of intelligence and the types of games and the artificial intelligence that's actually in them, that's just amazing how sophisticated games are now and how you can now physically interact with them like you couldn't before."

Wizards & Robots offers an escape for Adams to relive his childhood, while at the same time helping to shed light on the power of STEM education for kids. He grew up reading traditional comics like Superman, Spider-Man and Batman, and watched cartoons like Transformers, Centurions and Mighty Max.  He even appeared as John Wraith in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. "I'm still like a kid," Adams said. "I'm an adult that's been brought up in this society and culture, but my curiosity is still like a kid. That's where this interpretation of merging real science and robotics within a fantastic fantasy world came from."

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The secret to Adams's success in multiple business ventures has been the partners he's teamed up with, he says.

"It's all the power of your collaboration and your circle of people that you can potentially collaborate with," said Adams. "It's the same with my hardware like Beats headphones or Intel ultrabooks. I'm happy for that to be a part of an extension of my creativity."

In case it's not completely obvious by this point, Adams is fascinated by technology. He's been involved with organizations like NASA and FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) that push technology forward, while promoting the education of science.

"Computers amplify my ideas and my life," he said. "Being able to spit ideas into a computer to make and compose songs and share them with the world in real-time just fascinated me. It sparked my curiosity to go from writing songs on computers to wanting to learn how to program code on computers. Now I'm taking a computer science course at MIT as a result of my passion for technology."

That passion has also led to a new project for the musician, although he won't go into much detail at the moment. But it does involve two of his loves: robots and music.

"There are some things that I'm dabbling in with other folks that I'm creating with that I want to reveal in 2014, when it comes to machines and composing music," he said. "I'm working on that now, actually."

For now, Adams is going to score the soundtrack for Wizards & Robots with the Prague Philharmonic. The score will fuse computer music with orchestral compositions. He is also working on an app and a hyper-interactive website for the graphic novel. And the future looks bright for this new IP.

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