You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get

Scientists created a three-armed cyborg to play the drums like no human can

This dovetails with a conversation I had on Facebook this week, regarding how for all its reputation as a glimpse into possible futures, the bulk of science fiction amounts to the humans of today placed in the situations of tomorrow. Meaning, even works set far into the future show humans thinking and acting like humans of today.

This spawned a side discussion about how science fiction technology is also a hit-or-miss thing in the same way: a writer can dream up futuristic technology, but it is nearly impossible to see how that technology will really be used by the people of that future world. For example, mobile phones are now conventionally regarded as being inspired by the communicators from Star Trek.

But while the early cellphones between 1998-1999 were functionally similar to those from the show (if not more advanced…both provided remote wireless communication, but the real devices could connect to more than just the comms officer/operator on the bridge of your starship), and flip-phones from about 1999-2006 were visually similar to the show’s devices, nothing on the show predicted how the technology would expand dramatically in capability beyond mere voice communication, or how it would come to be used, or how its existence would change how people behave and interact.

Back to the linked article, what caught my interest here is that the inventors of this robotic arm appear to have some inkling at least that their technology could have unexpected results. If one arm can change percussion performance in a novel and aesthetically pleasing way, what might three or five extra arms do? If the technology matures according to their plans to be brain-interactive with a performer, what new styles of music might evolve in response (thinking along the lines of how software like Hypersim can computationally evolve novel aerodynamic shapes that ordinary human minds might never dream up)?

Of course there are downsides, too. Not only might such robotic technology form the basis of a robotic apocalypse a la Terminator, even worse, it could lead to new forms of music even less listenable than what we are saddled with today.