I Love and Hate Robots

I’ve always had a love / hate relationship with robots. (Actually, it’s all conceptual, as I really don’t know any robots personally). I remember touring an automotive plant back in the 80’s. Up until then, my coolest tech moment was upgrading my Apple II+ to 64KB of RAM, but seeing them in full force assembling with such precision left an indelible memory of what I thought the future might look like. Of course, being from Detroit, I was strongly encouraged to hate this vision.

Then I bought my first drum machine, a Yamaha RY-30. I loved the ability to have sampled sounds and a different palette to work from. I then wondered if I should hate it when my school band teacher (this one time… at band camp…) informed me that I should seriously consider changing my preferred instrument to anything but percussion. She claimed it was obvious that within 10 years all drum sounds would be produced by robots and humans would not be able to compete. There were certainly a few bleak moments of reflection on this “future,” but my private drum teacher convinced me that humans would always win the musicality factor. Maybe this was just a way of getting my parents to keep re-upping for lessons. Either way, it hasn’t happened yet – not even by a long shot.

(For you music geeks who want to hear the Yamaha RY-30 in action, check out the music tab of this blog and listen to “Jason Mendelson Originals,” track 4 – Wheel’s A Rollin’)

So when I see two videos recently about “next generation” robots, I am equally amazed and a bit fearful of what might actually happen one day. (See: Terminator). I feel pretty convinced that none of my fears will materialize in my lifetime, but then again, I was pretty sure my first 10MB hard drive was going to last me forever, too.

First up, if you haven’t seen it is Big Dog. The robot has better dexterity, balance and load capacity than I do. I want to know if I can rent one as a Sherpa for my July hiking trip to the Sawatch Range.

Second, are several videos lately of robots that are involuntarily broken apart and then reassemble themselves autonomously. Here is one that my partner Ryan blogged about last week. Here is another one – a chair – that figures out how to do what Humpty Dumpty and his posse never could. So the love / hate “relationship” continues. The nerd in me loves the possibilities, but something in my brain has great pause. I guess so long as I’m not replaced in my band Soul Patch, all will be fine.

  • nice timing on the post. we fired up our Sony Aibo again, a couple of days ago. the kids are old enough now to really enjoy hanging with it. while reading to them last night, the "dog" started dancing and the kids went nuts.

    My son likes asking it to dance. My daughter likes shaking its hand and rubbing its back.

    while on the whole, a useless, expensive, collection of parts, it's exposing the kids to autonomous (it docks itself when it needs more juice) hardware and software. its limitations, and possibilities.

    it'll die soon enough though, of one of two causes. either the batteries eventually won't hold charge anymore (Sony stopped manufacturing them a long time ago; maybe there's aftermarkets I can buy), or the joints will break from a tumble off a high surface (my daughter likes putting him "up high" and watching him tumble; morbid).

  • BFD drums sound great. We have used them on Muse Research Receptors tied into Roland Vs. If you gig and plug-ins don't scare you [ lol ], check out the Receptor:

    PS: I'm a studio and live sound geek, not a drummer. I've mic'd, mixed, and recorded enough kits and players to know what they should sound like. Wouldn't it be cool if robo-drums could make everyone sound like Dennis Chambers and Omark Hakim?

  • I know the reactor well and play at TD-20 live a lot of the time. Omar is the man. One of my favorites. Dennis is nothing to sneeze at, either.

  • Excellent! Thanks for the advice. FYI – on all of the Sooner or Later Soul Patch tracks, I used BFD.

  • You have got to hear how good the Spectrasonics Stylus RMX drums sound.

    The "chaos" and "groove" capabilities sound scary human.

    Nice to see you blogging solo, loved the stuff you did with Brad.