Multi-talented musician, designer, and hacker Martin Backes from Germany has designed a robot to croon a pop ballad like a superstar from the ‘90s. As Backes writes,
“What do machines sing of?” is a fully automated machine, which endlessly sings number-one ballads from the 1990s. As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments. This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.
In comments, Backes explained that the sounds were generated by digital signal processing, or DSP: “the sound is generated by the real time synthesis language called SuperCollider, same for the Visuals, so you have to write code. There`s almost no Audio FX or something like this, its basically a sine wave, the most artificial sound.” You can find out more about the device on Backes’ website.
The results are strangely impressive; even if the enunciation of the words isn’t always ideal, at least in the case of Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” the computer does a good job of matching her vocal range and expression.
Unfortunately, the robot’s repertoire consists of only five songs:
We’ve seen this a few times before, most notably with the cover of “Rock Lobster” by the “Bit52s” a couple years back. Here we have a case full of hard drives and other unidentified computer components playing what is arguably the song of the 1990s, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana.
It should be said that the “Rock Lobster” cover works a bit better, but at least this experiment establishes conclusively that robots cannot reproduce the ass-kicking righteousness of Dave Grohl’s skull-shattering drum fills.
Hajime Sorayama’s porny futurism is one of those 1980’s aesthetics that is somehow simultaneously hilarious yet incredibly impressive. The cheeky pin-up “gynoids” are so sleek and gorgeous—but so utterly ridiculous—it’s difficult to tell if the work is actually fetish or satire or some combination of both—although his years illustrating more “conventional” fetish art for Penthouse and Playboy suggest some interest in niche lusts. When asked last year in an interview about some of his favorite work, Sorayama replied:
I do have a few, actually. Penthouse started to run the section called “Great American Pissing Contest” after it published the image of a woman pissing on an expensive sofa. When the big Canadian distributer stopped importing that issue of Penthouse because of excessive S&M scenes, a movie director who is also my friend blessed me by saying, “Congratulations, country boy! You became famous.” This was decades ago…
In that light, doesn’t “cheesecake robot” sound kind of tame? Sorayama’s gynoids have had a cult following since his 1983 book, Sexy Robot (yes, it’s actually called that), but although he continues to produce cyber-smut (his latest, Sorayama: XL came out in 2014), it’s not often you see his work displayed. San Francisco will soon lucky enough to host an exhibit of prints that spans his entire career (with some for purchase), at Fifty24SF Gallery starting April 4th.
Maybe you guys are already familiar with Bina48, one of the most sophisticated robots ever built. She’s modeled after a very real woman named Bina Aspen, wife of Dr.Martine Rothblatt. Rothblatt is the CEO of biotech outfit United Therapeutics.
More than just a robot, Bina48 is a “mind clone.” Bina Aspen spent more than 20 hours recalling her childhood experiences, life experiences and thoughts. The information was “then transcribed and uploaded to an artificial intelligence database.”
Bina48 cost over $125,000 to make over a course of three years and was built by robot designer David Hanson.
Bina48 recently was on a panel at SXSW which you can watch here. It’s really weird. Bina48 begins expressing how nervous she is in front of a large crowd and then tells a joke to calm everyone’s nerves. WAT?!
But here’s where shit gets real strange. A video of Bina48 having a conversation with Bina Aspen. Prepare yourself for a total head trip…
In 1963 Jim Henson‘s resume consisted almost entirely of six years at a Washington, D.C., television show called Sam and Friends. In 1963 that experience paid off, as he roped in a pretty sweet deal for Bell System—or “Ma Bell,” as the nationwide telephone company was known before the Justice Dept. broke it up into regional companies in 1984. Bell commissioned two movies for use at a Bell Data Communications Seminar, which AT&T later described as “elite seminars.”
The first movie, “Robot,” clocks in at a tidy 3 minutes and 18 seconds and focuses exclusively on the eponymous and humorous automaton, which Tara McGinley, in one of my favorite DM headlines, called an “angry, flatulent robot.” Spot on.
Typical of the movie’s humor is this introductory statement made by the robot:
“The machine possesses supreme intelligence, a faultless memory, and a beautiful soul. Correction: the machine does not have a soul. It has no bothersome emotions. While mere mortals wallow in a sea of emotionalism, the machine is busy digesting vast oceans of information in a single, all-encompassing gulp.”
The second movie, “Charlie Magnetico,” is twice as long and, I daresay, twice as funny. “Charlie Magnetico” uses the same robot used in “Robot” (albeit in a less flatulent mode) while also branching out to include comic footage of a rocket ship exploding as well as entire family of employees called the Magneticos—the humor here residing mainly in the idea that an entire multi-continental supply chain could be administered from a single shack in the woods. Playing Charlie Magnetico as well as his mother was Henson’s first hire, Jerry Juhl, whom Henson later credited with “developing much of the humor and character of his Muppets.”
On the busy streets of Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo, there’s a new sheriff in town—or rather, there are some giant robots now directing traffic. A local taxi driver said (ominously), “There are certain drivers who don’t respect the traffic police. But with the robot it will be different. We should respect the robot.” Of course people will “respect” the robot! We’ve all seen Terminator!
Humanity’s inevitable fall to robot overlords aside, there are some real benefits to these machines, who have already proven successful after earlier trial runs in 2013. There impartial, they can’t be bribed, they actually record evidence and they appear to be just as capable of writing tickets and directing traffic as a flesh and blood cop. They’re also solar powered, and at $27,500, I’m guessing they cost less than employing cops round-the-clock.
I remain suspicious. If we’re not doomed to enslavement by massive metal fascists, why do these robot cops look so much like Doctor Who’s Cybermen??? They couldn’t have designed them all tiny and Japanese and cute? Mark my words, this is only the beginning!
An entire generation of kids was brainwashed by the creative folks at Hanna-Barbera into thinking that the future would consist of treadmill sidewalks, levitating high schools in the clouds, and family-sized flying saucers for the commute. It’s hard to watch The Jetsons today and not think, “Boy, they really thought about resources differently in the 1960s.” (Actually, this radio program from the Canadian Broadcast Company argues that The Jetsons got more right than you’d suspect…. can you say Roomba?)
One of the prime objects of techno-fetishization was the Jetsons’ maid, called Rosie, who (per Wikipedia) was an outdated model but so beloved by the family that they would never think to replace her. I also didn’t realize until researching it today that most of the Jetsons episodes were made in the 1980s—in fact, Rosie appeared in only two episodes in the original 1962-1963 run and was a more frequent premise in the 1980s episodes.
Anyway, we think of that kind of robot as existing purely in the future, but a man named Dennis Weston who lived in Leeds, England, created a reasonable—and working—facsimile of Rosie almost at the same time as those original Jetsons episodes. As early as 1966, Weston created “Tinker,” a remote-controlled robot that could wash the car, weed the garden, take the baby for a stroll down the road, and go shopping. The catch was that Tinker couldn’t travel more than 200 yards of David’s garage, where he controlled Tinker through a control panel. Due to lack of space at David’s home the robot was eventually passed on to a family friend in 1974. Tinker was activated by 430 motors, and a TV camera in the robot’s head transmitted an image to the operator.
Weston died in 1995 at the age of 71. The Cybernetic Zoo blog received a message from Weston’s son Martin in 2012, according to which “Tinker was given to his Dad’s friend, Brian, in 1974 as Dennis no longer had the space available to keep it. Brian owned a shop called Leeds Radio during the 60s and 70s; he sold army surplus radio equipment. Most of the gear that went through Brian’s shop was eventually stripped down and sold off as spare parts. Unfortunately, the same thing probably happened to Tinker. ... Percy was just another one of Martin’s Dad’s 10,000 unfinished projects. It never got completed and the hand just accumulated dust under a pile of junk in Dennis’ cellar/workshop. It probably ended up being melted down for scrap.”
One of the images below states that Tinker “can be programmed to perform ‘any reasonable task.’” Given the apparent importance of user control during those tasks, it’s a little unclear what “programmed” could really mean here…...
Here’s Weston working on his follow-up to Tinker, named Percy:
So many questions. The world’s largest computer expo took place in Hanover, Germany, last week. It’s called CeBIT (Centrum für Büroautomation, Informationstechnologie und Telekommunikation), and David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany were both in attendance. Tobit Software hauled out a few robots who proceeded to do a, er, “sexy” pole dance for a large audience including the two heads of state.
We wring our hands and stroke our beards thoughtfully at the specter of widespread mechanization and robotization acting as a powerful drag on employment figures, as increasingly, blue-collar jobs are being taken over by robots, and corporations are only too eager to accelerate that process along. But I don’t think anyone had supposed that strippers were among the threatened population.
As always, it’s a little unfair to judge an incipient technology by its first exposure to the public. But it’s not easy to imagine what the target audience for this product is.
Each gyrating bucket of bolts runs $39,500, for those who can afford a really weird private fantasy come true.
It is not known whether Frau Merkel made any disappointed comments about the “Unheimliches Tal” (Uncanny Valley).
In the ten zillionth instance of Japan provoking a “Why didn’t anyone else think of this before now?” reaction, the aptly named Robot Restaurant in Tokyo’s well-known Kabukichō entertainment district has adopted what might be considered the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. With an aesthetic vaguely reminiscent of Kaiju Big Battel (itself a goof on the excesses of Japanese culture) as orchestrated in the style of, say, Gaspar Noé‘s Enter the Void, Robot Restaurant features (in what is surely not an exhaustive list) endless flickering lights, pterodactyls, glow sticks, robot dogs, animatronic sharks, a blinking army tank, a bunch of people wearing African masks, go-go girls wearing fairy outfits, go-go girls in hyperbolic pretend battle with each other, go-go girls playing rock music, and go-go girls driving around giant animatronic fembot amusement park cars. The fembots have “pneumatic busts,” in the reliable verbiage of Time Out Japan.
I keep calling them “go-go girls,” but the proper term is “para-para dancers.” The price tag for a couple of hours of this madness is 5000 yen (about $50). The joint’s website gives a vivid impression of the batshit craziness that goes on there.
Cross-media artist Matthias Dörfelt has taken a strong new step towards realizing the nightmares of illustrators everywhere by creating Robo Faber, “an autonomous drawing robot determined to reproduce.” Per the Creative Applications Network:
The robot continuously creates drawings generated using a preset system Matthias developed for Weird Faces and the I Follow flip books. The system works around the idea of thinking how the drawings are created by hand and the same logic designed into the algorithm.
Each connector, or “mechanical part” is entirely random and unique, based on the presets Matthias programmed. In this way the robot can draft an infinite amount of connectors while looking like it is sketching and thinking about a mechanism to reproduce.
While others may fret about HAL releasing all of their oxygen into the dark vacuum of space, I have always had a comparatively optimistic prediction of robots. My own robot vision is much more along the lines of the I, Robot narrative, where artificial intelligence has flaws and growing pains, for sure, but ultimately comes to benefit the world, providing deep and fascinating insight as to what it means to be human.
Also, they might get us drunk.
Take this robot at Cornell University, who has learned how to process and navigate complex environments enough to anticipate when his scientist friend (yes, I’m going there) tends to pour a beer. This is actually a pretty giant step for artificial intelligence. Scientists constantly wrestle with the creation of the sort of algorithms necessary for learning things like “anticipation.”
So no, I will not be taking out a policy with Old Glory Insurance, and I do not fear Skynet becoming self-aware, nor the subsequent Terminator robots that will eventually run our barren land. I welcome our new technologically birthed companions, and only ask that they perfect their pours.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
“We’re getting closer to a world where technology takes care of the hard work—discovery, organization, communication—so that you can get on with what makes you happiest… living and loving. It’s an exciting time to be at Google.”
These are the concluding lines of a recent announcement by the CEO of Google, Larry Page. It sounds great: technology will make our lives easier and we don’t have to work hard anymore. The machines, or rather ‘technology,’ they say will run our world. But…
I think we’e in the middle of an unfolding horror story!
It can’t simply be some bizarre coincidence, can it, that as we scale ever higher peaks of technological innovation, the USA is going through its worst recession in 97 years? The story is not too different in Europe and most of the rest of the world; there must be something seriously wrong somewhere. Stands to reason, right?
Plenty of words have been written on the topic of machines taking away jobs from humans, and the twin threat of outsourcing, but this time things are different, really different. They are so different that…
I have no hesitation in saying that the world is on the verge of screwing itself in a spectacular fashion!
Here is the proof…
The invisible robots
As a kid I used to imagine a future where robots would do things for us. That day has arrived but these robots don’t look like anything I imagined they would as a child. They don’t have arms or legs, they are computers and smartphones with the Internet acting as their brains. The talk about machines replacing humans is an age old story and we have managed pretty well so far, but this time things are different for two reasons: Distribution and Convergence!
Since the Industrial Revolution, even before, machines have replaced human jobs but they never had this ability to multiply and spread across the global with almost zero additional costs through the Internet. Take the case of the mailman vs email or traditional books vs Kindle books. In the later case, it costs next to nothing to distribute something that used to take time and effort, printing, warehousing, shipping and retail outlets in the past. Time and effort that was spent by real people doing real jobs which are simply not necessary anymore.
From bank clerks to airline ticketing attendants, there are many classes of jobs that are going extinct. Read this article: A look at jobs replaced by technology. Where do all these people go now?
But isn’t capitalism, to a certain extent supposed to be “destructive”? Isn’t that where innovation comes from? In the battle between man and machine there is an old argument that goes instead of a candle we now have light bulbs and in place of a horse and carriage we have cars, so “disruption” is good. But now we are faced with a new problem: Convergence.
Due to convergence of technologies, multiple tasks are now doable with but a single device. The smartphone and tablet are effectively destroying the calculator, camera, flashlight, alarm clock, wrist watch, notepad, audio player and multiple other industries. I am not merely talking about the things one can do via the Internet for the scale of disruption is unimaginable. Real people were making those products. They are now not needed anymore. And it’s not merely job loss, the products themselves won’t exist anymore.
And who manufactures these new converged products?
Most probably some company like Foxconn in China where Apple and many other companies build their products at dead cheap rates. Almost none of those manufacturing jobs are in the USA or anyplace in Europe. No wonder the Eurozone is in tatters right now, Greece is at 60% unemployment and Spain has 55% of its youth between the ages of 18 and 25 unemployed right now; forget manufacturing, they might never ever get a job that involves soft skills, all thanks to outsourcing.
Ousted by outsourcing
Outsourcing, while taking away jobs from many, has provided employment to millions in another part of the globe. This led to an increase in earning potential as well as spending capacity for millions who could now aspire to “things” and a lifestyle unimaginable earlier. New doors have opened where none existed earlier. However, there are dangerous pitfalls on this side too. There are already two main patterns one can notice emerging– Obsolescence and Cannibalism.
All the pitfalls of disruptive technology apply here too. You can never say when a particular piece of technology or service will become obsolete. The skills that we learn today might not be needed tomorrow; this applies to software professionals who are dime a dozen out there specializing in skills that could be without economic value tomorrow.
Very few people specialize in “real” skills anymore, right from a commerce graduate to a science student to a mechanical, civil or chemical engineer; all want to become Software-IT Professionals.That’s where the easy moolah is. Those who continue in the pursuit of conventional professions often find themselves in a unique fix, not able to compete with their counterparts in the IT industry in terms of fat paychecks. But there is an even bigger issue in play here, cannibalism.
In the modern world of outsourcing, cannibalism is a rampant practice. No one is eating anyone else alive but everyone is eating away at everyone else’s jobs.
Organizations are always looking at doing things the fastest and cheapest way. They achieve it by employing smarter technology, but where manpower is still essential they are always on the lookout for a cheaper option that can accomplish the same task in a shorter time-frame—the primary reason why outsourcing exists in the first place. Why bothering hiring and paying an experienced hand when a trainee will suffice?
For a country like India, that boasts of a massive youth population that is ready to be employed, the future can be quite unsettling. It is a win-win situation for the bosses, but the same can’t be said for the employees as job security simply does not exist anymore.
So basically, technology and outsourcing are screwing the west and the rest are hell bent on screwing themselves . To put it simply…
The West is already screwed and the rest are hellbent on screwing themselves by cannibalising themselves to obsolescence
So what is the solution?
James Altucher, one of the most exciting writers I have come across online recently, wrote a post on TechCrunch titled “10 reasons why 2013 will be the year you quit your job.” In it Altucher advises his readers to turn into entrepreneurs to save themselves. He makes some terrific points to support his case, but I wonder if it’s realistic to expect that everyone can become an entrepreneur? Someone has to be at the bottom of the foodchain and even if someone dares to do something on his own, the big daddies will give them sleepless nights. Also in an open economy where everyone has equal opportunities, it is the big corporations that have the maximum leverage. Everyone else is just part of the crowd.
Take the case of movies. The top hits today make more money than ever while the bottom is a horror story with the vast majority of films not even finding any avenues of release or exhibition; it is a problem of plenty. It is the same with businesses and tech start ups. The big corps capture the bulk of the market and the smaller fish are in the game only to be hooked or to be eaten by the biggies. No wonder income inequalities are growing wider across the globe between the rich and the rest of us.
The Rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer has never been truer than it is today!
Forgetting for a moment, the poorer countries where wealth inequality is extraordinary and the bottom of the pyramid is unimaginably huge. Instead take the case of America, which in everyone’s opinion is an advanced and wealthy nation. Truth is, top 1% of America’s wealthy elite control 40% of their nation’s wealth. You should check the video below to see the scale of this phenomenon.
The middle class is almost non-existent now. We might as well rename it the “temporary class.”
We aspire to reach the top, but in reality most of us are just a part of the vast bottom that is feeding the top!
Technology is wonderful, it really does help us to live better lives. It is good that most things are becoming automated, wonderful that we don’t have to work as hard anymore, but here is the catch:
How do we survive in a world where our worth is only determined by our last paycheck?
And if all the jobs are handled by technology, who will give us those checks? We have yet to figure out a way to live in this world without money. Somewhere this cycle of the world’s productive labor and capital going to the 1% has to be broken.
That reminds me of the famous line by Charles Bukowski:
“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6.30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so”
How in the hell did we end up here? I wonder too. It is high time we all started to talk about this. A global conversation. Until then, we shall continue to be willing and invisible participants in the mission to screw ourselves and our world over (and to what end? We already know the answer). We have done a pretty great job of it until now. It is high time we figured out newer (and BETTER) ways of living and surviving in this world that are not dependent on us working ourselves to death so that the 1%‘s kids can sit on golden toilet seats and have a servant wipe their asses with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton napkins. In the future we’re heading for, your kid won’t have a pot to piss in.
I hope Google has some ideas for that too. Maybe you have one. Let me know.
This is a guest post by New Delhi-based social media consultant, Kartik Dayanand.
This piece, “The Sex Life of Robots” was one of the few segments that I didn’t personally—control freak that I am—produce in the Disinformation TV series, it was produced and shot by Doug Stone and edited by Nimrod Erez. As you’ll see, it arrived a little polished gem and was one of my favorite things in the entire series.
The character you’re going to meet here, animator Mike Sullivan will be a familiar face to a certain percentage of DM readers for his roles in both Robert Downey Sr.‘s Greasers Palace (he played Lamy “Homo” Greaser) and the low-budget early 80s slasher flick Madman. Mike was also a special effects technician on one of the Star Trek films, worked in the art department of early SNL and did many of the “Foto Funnies” strips found in the National Lampoon magazine during its heyday.
Today Sullivan runs his Cloud Studios from a dusty loft on 26th Street and 6th Ave in NYC, near the site of the weekly 6th Ave Flea Market, which he scours for Barbie and GI Joe dolls to modify and put through perverse paces for his perpetual work-in-progress magnum opus, “The Sex Life of Robots.”
NSFW or apparently Virgin Air: A few months back this segment was featured on the in-flight Boing Boing channel and there were some complaints. I was pleased to see that the show was still a lil’ controversial after more than a decade.
Last month on 60 Minutes, reporter Steve Kroft filed a fascinating story about how technological advances in automation and robotics have totally revolutionized American business and manufacturing, while we’ve seen the number of decent paying jobs shrink.
After he indicated how information workers like paralegals are about to become as SOL as airport counter personal and travel agents, two of the Kroft’s interviewees, MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, told him we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet:
Andrew McAfee: Our economy is bigger than it was before the start of the Great Recession. Corporate profits are back. Business investment in hardware and software is back higher than it’s ever been. What’s not back is the jobs.
Steve Kroft: And you think technology and increased automation is a factor in that?
Erik Brynjolfsson: Absolutely.
I’ve never really considered 60 Minutes to be much of a cutting edge outlet to “break” stories, instead I feel like once a story has made it to the highest rated American news magazine, that it’s been minted, or confirmed, as a legitimate mainstream thing (or celebrity or whatever). That’s to say that by the time 60 Minutes gets around to reporting on some sort of long-term trend we’re usually already mired DEEP within this event. Sometimes, not just as a nation, but in this case, as with global warming or AIDS, as a planet.
What is so remarkable to ponder—and it’s touched on somewhat in this piece—is how cost-efficient advances in automation will probably have the most negative consequences in countries like China and India, not the first world countries where automated manufacturing plants will probably mostly end up being built. Shipping to the US from China, for instance, adds a not inconsiderable amount of cost to the price of a given commodity. To purchase one of the robots featured in the segment would be cheaper than three years of Chinese labor. There’s cold comfort in that for the “Made in America” crowd, of course, as it’s not like there’s going to be that many more jobs created in America if production is brought back to these shores.
There sure will be a hell of a lot fewer opportunities for employment in the Third World, though, this much seems assured.
It brings up the question of how the wealth of nations will be divvied up when only the holders (hoarders, if you prefer) of capital, employing armies of automatons and few human beings, will hold ALL the cards? Clearly not sustainable and besides that, WHO is going to buy their products anyway when no one will have a job or any money in the first place? In America, and around the world, too, we’re moving away from the notion of “Fordism” at a breakneck pace.
The long-term implications for the longevity of the capitalist system seem dire indeed when viewed through this lens (and let’s not forget, this sort of circling the toilet bowl endgame was predicted by a certain Mr. Karl Marx many, many years ago). The implications of all of this are enormous.
Labor unions will become obsolete in such a scenario, although in a sense, they’ll be replaced by much larger armies of the long-term unemployed!
The flipside of all this is a free-market sort of argument that holds as prices for automated “workers” would come down, there should be a corresponding explosion in small business innovation. Whereas, I do think that is possible with certain cases, how many people do you personally know who would make good entrepreneurs in this bold robotic future?
Unless there’s an Elon Musk born every second, we’re doomed!