The Roomba Revolution

by Connor Brandt, senior writing coach

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Elon Musk, a visionary of our time, is well known for his warnings on the dangers of artificial intelligence. He is very much worried over AI taking over our world, and is actively implementing measures to counteract this future. He clearly isn’t the only one with this fear; many famous movies, like Terminator, The Matrix, and even Wall-E, all feature big, bad AI with their technological prowess and legions of robots as the antagonist. Why is it so commonly held that, in the end, the robots will become the masters, if not the annihilators? Perhaps the answer lies within that very word.

Like many of our words, robot is one that someone just kinda made up because they felt like it (who knew it was that simple to make new words?). Playwright Karel Čapek first coined the term in his play R.U.R, which stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum’s Universal Robots), after his brother suggested the term. While “robot” doesn’t find roots in any English word, it does have roots in the Czech word robota, meaning drudgery or serfdom. So, basically, robot means slave.

 

So, that might be onestrike against robots, but what about the play? It can’t be that bad. For one, while close enough, the robots in R.U.R. aren’t exactly the same thing you’d think of as a robot. They are closer to the replicants of Blade Runner or the hosts of Westworld (though, even if they aren’t exactly robots, things still don’t always work as intended). So what happens in the play?

 

(Spoilers ahead for a 98 year old Czech play)

 

Humanity creates these robots and uses them to perform all kinds of menial tasks, from secretary work to factory production. What happens when they tire of this existence? A new civil rights movement? Peaceful coexistence? World peace?

The robots rebel and purge the earth of all but one human.

 

That’s a pretty big second strike. We’ll let that count as two strikes.

 

It’s no wonder why people are so alarmed about the advancement of AI and robot technology. Aside from the Man v. God, Creator v. Creation dynamics, the work that introduced “robot” to our vocabulary features them killing us all! Before AI could detect your face, before robots vacuumed our floors, before we interconnected any device we could in our homes, the first action robots committed was the effective extinction of our race.

 

Next time your roomba hits something, don’t laugh at it. Maybe you’ll be spared when robots come for us all.

Why Music Consumption Matters… and Why it Doesn’t

 

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by Sophie Hicks, senior writing coach

Music is one of the few things that unites people, and it is one of the best ways we can transport ourselves into other times and places. I personally have very limited musical talent that extends only to about a decade of grade-school piano, so I turn to music listening as a means of getting my music fix. Listening to music might not have the same gratifying effect that playing it does, but nonetheless it’s an important part of my life and the lives of most people. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how we choose to listen to music.

Clearly, we live in the era of streaming. The 2018 Global Music report showed a 41% increase in streaming revenue, which is pretty significant. Fewer people downloaded music last year, and even fewer purchased it in the physical form (like CDs or records, if you remember those). It’s sometimes surprising to think that even in my short lifetime I’ve gone from having to purchase a single song for $1.69 on my iPod shuffle to being able to listen to entire albums for free on my computer. Even before that, the only music I knew of came from a CD player and the old 8-track player at my cabin. It’s kind of crazy that we once purchased just a few songs at a time when now we have every song imaginable at our fingertips.

And it makes sense that we like streaming, doesn’t it? Why pay for something that you could get for free? Well, this question is actually more complicated than you might think. Streaming posed a highly ethical dilemma amongst avid music consumers as soon as it became a thing. Because artists made just one tiny fraction of a dollar for each stream, and immediate sales following album releases were a lot lower on streaming platforms, many notable musicians (like Taylor Swift and Thom Yorke of Radiohead) refused to release their work on the platforms. Just a few years later, though, they’ve released their work on Spotify and Apple Music and streaming in general has begun to prove itself as a not-so-bad way for musicians to make money.

Incase you are as unfamiliar as I was about how the whole money-making piece works, it basically goes like this: for each stream, the streaming service will pay an artist a tiny bit of money. And because streaming has almost completely annihilated any other way of listening to music, artists have begun to reap the benefits of streaming since, well, it’s essentially the only way people listen to their music. It especially evens out the playing field for lesser-known artists. So, it’s fair to say that streaming is becoming an increasingly valid way to listen to music despite its complicated history.

Seeing as music consumption has already changed so much in the past few decades, it’s fun to think about what might happen in the future. Live music remains strong, so it will be interesting to see how the worlds of live music and streaming (which seem polar) begin to collide and maybe even combine (virtual reality, anyone?). Whatever happens, it’s clear that music will always continue to change and will always surprise us. It matters how we consume music, but at the end of the day music is just music. No matter how we listen to it in fifty years, it will still be a good indication of what our culture is like and what people believe in; and, at the end of the day, that’s what the purpose of music has always been.