A Night at the Roxbury
We are going to have personal air vehicles that are both cars and planes, at least that’s Missy Cummings’s vision of the future. It’s basically the intersection of a drone with a robotic car, so that your plane is also your car, but the big leap in technology is that you are actually driving neither, says the Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Drones have a negative bias in the media, says Cummings, because they are essentially seen as spy cameras. But most people don’t realise that when they are on a plane they are effectively travelling on a drone. The fly-by-wire technology that exists on all Airbus and many Boeing craft is the exact same technology that exists on drones.
The reason why drones are the answer to the future is that the truth is we are terrible drivers. Humans inherently have a half-second lag in almost any quick response that they need to have, like a ball rolling out in a street or seeing an aircraft in the sky and you have to take evasive action. Even a half-second delay can mean the difference between life and death, and computers and automated systems don’t have that – they have microseconds.
Even a cursory listen to Iamus is likely to persuade sceptics that it has come a long way from earlier efforts at computer-composed music such as “Emily Howell”, a program devised by American music professor David Cope. The key to Iamus’s success is an algorithm that mimics the process of natural selection.
Forms such as sonatas and concertos were also structured by clear rules.Vojtech Sebo
It takes a fragment of music (itself generated at random), of any length, and mutates it. Each mutation is assessed to see whether it conforms to particular rules – some generic, such as that the notes have to be playable on the instrument in question, others genre-specific, so that features like the melodies and harmonies fit with what is typical for that style. Little by little, the initial random fragment becomes more and more like real music, and the ‘evolutionary process’ stops when all the rules are met. In this way, hundreds of variants can be generated from the same starting material.
In a sense, these algorithms are not doing anything so very different from the way composers have always composed. Composing fugues, for example – which has been done from the Baroque to the modern era – involves taking a small melodic idea and applying permutations and rules that extend, develop and interweave it in overlapping voices, while preserving some basic and essential rules of harmony. Forms such as sonatas and concertos were also structured by clear rules.