Aye, Robot

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about whether a computer could write a successful musical.

I’m pleased to report that the conclusion of Ivan Hewett’s Telegraph article and Cat Gale’s Sky Arts documentary seems to be “Yes, a computer can write a successful musical.” And I’m even more happy to relate that the answer is also “No, a computer can’t write a successful musical.”

There’s a million things I haven’t done / But just you wait…

The Prof added a slightly less half-baked summation in the comments to the post, which I recommend.

The rise of the machines is an interesting topic for the stroke patient. While I was in in-patient rehab, I was hooked up to a Bioness L300 Drop Foot System.


The system delivers small electrical stimulations in a timed pattern set by a remote control. The idea is that those impulses activate the muscles in the leg to lift the foot to take a step. Except I wasn’t ready to take independent steps. Walking with drop foot was still a dream at that point. Instead, while I lay on the ground, my rehabbers lashed feet to a stationary bike, and with the help of the artificially-created impulses, I was able to cycle in a pleasing, mechanical rhythm.

There are all sorts of robotic devices that can help stroke patients with their deficits, but almost four years on, I’ve run a half-marathon, been cleared to drive, and my interest in robotic and computerised assistance is more general.

“Drive on the right side, you fool!”

When we lived in New York, I got my hair cut around the corner from the law office I worked it. I’d sit in the chair, and wonder if I’d made the wrong career choice. Other firms in the city had developed document management systems that would allow users to tap in the basic information required by a certain form of contract, and spit out a first draft. It seemed to me that soon, the only way to be sure of a reasonably steady gig would be to provide some sort of personal service that required the physical presence of the worker, and some form of artistry.

I don’t call this artistry, Stroke Bloke. You’re fired!

The Guardian, which has made valiant attempts to get out in front of the changing technology in journalism but still failed sufficiently to be begging for voluntary contributions from its readers, has been contemplating the end of human usefulness over the past few months.

Don’t worry, Steven Crabb’s got your back.

The short film on this Guardian webpage, The Last Job on Earth, end with Professor Moshe Vardi’s remark that “Machines could take 50% of jobs in the next 30 years,” and the assertion of the Chief Economist of the Bank of England that “Machines are already undertaking tasks which were unthinkable – if not unimaginable – a decade ago.”

“I think apoplectic.me is down” – The Last Job on Earth

In an accompanying essay, Paul Mason writes Automation may mean a post-work society, but we shouldn’t be afraid. Conversely, as Google DeepMind’s 4-1 victory over Lee Se-dol at Go, the board game considered thousands of times more complicated than chess, progressed, technology reporter Alex Hern argued that we should be more afraid of computers than we are.

He *does* look concerned

You see, DeepMind was programmed to be able to “Just sit and think about Go, and get better.”

The sub-heading of Mason’s piece says

To benefit from the automation revolution we need a universal basic income, the slashing of working hours and a redefinition of ourselves without work

That does sound utopian in the best sense of the word. Doesn’t it? In fact, in some imagined 1950s when the futuristic chairs of The Last Job on Earth were all the rage, wasn’t that what was expected? A world in which technology made everyone’s lives better?

Alex Hern does suggest that possibility, in a Silicon Revolution that mirrors the Industrial Revolution – there’s widespread misery and unrest in the short term, but ulitmately a better world on the other side. In an alternate future, the world economy is holllowed out by the unemployed by untold millions, and in a permanent recession, the super-rich are entrenched as our feudal overlords.

Well of course you’re being repressed. You’re British.

But Mason mentions that the Utopian Socialist, Charles Fourier

famously predicted work could become play – its qualities could absorb the qualities of aimlessness, humour, even eroticism.

I’m going to hedge my bets, and find that steady gig providing some sort of personal service that requires the physical presence of the worker, and some form of artistry.

We’re covered, thanks, Stroke Bloke. Also, you’re fired.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

3 thoughts on “Aye, Robot

  1. So I mean. Your tiny letter picks a prog-ish pop song from a concept album about robot human interaction, your blog cheekily alludes to the idea that there’s one thing that has human skill, ala vigorous nighttime activity, and it’s all very fun.

    But you pick mr roboto by Styx

    When joes garage exists. Which actually has a song in German about having intercourse with a robotic home appliance.

    So I guess this is a veiled request for when we do write our prog Rock masterpiece about men overcoming robots, the works we use as influence are joes garage and 2112 well before Styx

    Oh but we will write it. We will. Unless the machines do it first!

    1. Ha! Looks like I’ve got some homework. Or housework, if Heinrich Hoover might be involved.

      Oh Gord. Robots and Limbo of the Infants and The Black Douglas. It’s all beginning to make a terrible kind of sense.

      Once we work in the chickens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.