What can a bionic drumming arm teach us about artificial intelligence?

This bionic drumming arm is a pretty cool piece of tech, combining robotics with musical algorithms, but it also has some interesting applications for artificial intelligence.


Jason Barnes, the drummer in the video and a student at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, lost the lower part of his arm in an accident but continued to drum using a prosthetic he crafted himself. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology built him this new prosthetic (seen in the video) which senses the electrical signals in his arms to help control it.

One of the coolest features, though, is the musical algorithm based on the work of jazz greats that will power an additional autonomous drumstick that works with Barnes' own drumming to create a mix of sounds one person couldn't otherwise make alone. Via The New Scientist:

The researchers then added another layer of complexity: a second, autonomous drumstick on the robot arm (see photo). This second stick, controlled via its own motor, uses a microphone and an accelerometer to sense the rhythm Barnes is playing, as well as music from any nearby musicians. An algorithm then produces a new beat with a complementary rhythm and melody, modelled on the music of jazz greats like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. With this extra artificial intelligence, human and machine combine to make Barnes a kind of "superhuman drummer", Weinberg says.


This is pretty cool, and an interesting way to think about artificial intelligence, too — instead of imagining it as a separate intelligence, it can be a kind of responsive intelligence that supplements and works with our own.

So what do you think? What other kinds of uses and applications — musical or otherwise — can you imagine for this style of AI?

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We once replaced an entire drummer with machine.