Monday, May 24, 2010

Violin Playing Robot

I've noticed this fascinating pattern in websites about the future, that most are either entirely optimistic (and spend a lot of time focussing on new technology and how wonderful it's going to be), or entirely pessimistic (and spend a lot of time focussing on resource and environmental problems and how terrible they are going to be). I think that most of my readers are from the latter camp, and tend to pay little attention to technology trends and thus to be skeptical about the potential for artificial intelligence to develop much, and in particular to displace humans further.

Since different folks appreciate things in different ways, I thought I'd put up the above video (which I found at Singularity Hub) which may help a few people to realize that there really is something to think about here.  This is a Japanese robot playing a Chinese folk song at an expo in Shanghai.


dnissley said...

You're right about this reader, but I still see plenty of ground in between the two camps.

Personally I tend to shrug stuff like this off as really cool but in the end nothing more than expensive toys. Can you talk more about how machines will fuel their creation and operation? How will they offset the emissions that come with their creation and operation (if any)? These seem to be major hurdles that never get addressed.

I do see technology playing a big role in the future, but not in the ways a lot of singularity folks do. I like to think I believe in a singularity that is wholly different than the singularity discussed at high tech conferences. It's farther off and involves extreme commitment to sustainability and resilience, it's rooted in organic systems and patterns. I see the beginnings of this future in projects like open source ecology, and even more so in garage biotech.

(And I just saw that I missed a big singularity post of yours from a few days back which I've got to read now.)

Greg said...

Pessimistic or optimistic? It comes down to your view of whether we can override human nature. Nate Hagens has written extensively about this on The Oil Drum.

The violin-playing robot, and the towel-folding robot that did the tech blog rounds a few weeks ago, show that we don't need breakthroughs like true machine intelligence for the next big expansion of automation. Developments in biotech and nanotech aren't so eye-catching, but are equally impressive.

So this is how I see the economic future going, barring catastrophes. I) continued expansion of outsourcing, ii) the slow growth of automation in occupations that can't be outsourced, and iii) finally, automation of the outsourced jobs, and propagation of automation throughout the developing countries. At the end the only occupations for humans will be in business start-up and governance, the higher levels of academia, the arts, and sports. Oh, and personal service for the wealthy. For every other job, automation will be cheaper than employing workers. (It would be cheaper in arts and sports too, but what'd be the point?)

It seems to me that working to make a living is going to become a thing of the past for the majority, thanks to our society's ability to generate arbitrarily large surpluses.

Bad or good? We have some choices to make about how we respond to this possibility. It'd be a good idea to plan for it, but that seems unlikely to happen.

Michael said...

We often say of a violinist, " he's no good, he just plays mechanically." Those who hope for artificial intelligence hope to develop something mechanical that doesn't play mechanically.

KLR said...

I'm a violin etc playing human, thanks for depressing me. Yes, by all means lets funnel technology and imagination into making all human endeavor obsolete! Want to busk a bit ala Joshua Bell? Beat cheeks, we've got the THX fiddler on tap!

Of course music playing automata are nothing new. One type gave its name to a certain novel I assume you're familiar with, as it's a must-read on the topic of automation's dark side - I'm talking about Player Piano of course.

Also people still hire live musicians a century after the development of recorded sound. Can't beat that human interaction, it seems. Up to this point, anyway. I think of a world famous fiddler who used to command $6k fees for gigs, who's actually lowering himself to the point of teaching at a music camp this summer, which was previously unheard for him - seems the pickings are that much more slim of late.

Toyota’s Violin-Playing Robot at Shanghai Expo. More videos, perhaps of better quality.