Guitar Hero Robot

Wired reports the Cyth Bot, created by Cyth Systems, is a robot that has been programmed to play Guitar Hero for Wii. The robot uses a light sensor to detect the intensity of the color of each note and then play the guitar accordingly:

The bot currently has an accuracy rating of 75-80%, but this will likely change as they get better technology in there. Other modifications not currently in the robot would be the use of Star Power. The computer could detect if certain variables were present before using it: first, how high the Star Power was; second, how high the bonus rating is; third, how many notes are appearing on-screen. Instead of flipping the entire guitar, a mod could be made that would flick the Wiimote to activate it.

 What makes this interesting is that even with the current technology, the robot cannot currently play the game faster than a human. It is conceivable though that the robot could do so eventually.

What makes this interesting is the fact that a robot may eventually manage to reach 100% accuracy every time.  According to Brian Sutton-Smith in The Grasshopper, one thing that distinguishes games from other activities is the sense of challenge provided through arbitrary limitations promoted through rules. In the example of climbing Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary would only climb the mountain if there was no other conceivable way of making it to the top (i.e. taking an escalator or helicopter). In this case, the fact that a robot could do the work might send some Sir Edmund Hillary rockstars off to another game.

However, like Deep Blue, the fact that a computer can beat a human at certain games does not mean that the activity has become meaningless: people still play chess, even if they do not use a computer to calculate the moves (at least fair players do not). Similarly, if all mountains had escalators installed, we would still enjoy climbing them for the challenge and the experience. Likewise, we’d still enjoy playing Guitar Hero, though the Sir Edmund Hillary in us might be a bit soured by the robot’s existence, suggesting the game is fairly simple.

In some ways, the Cyth Bot is similar to self-playing pianos of the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as their modern equivalents. The difference is, self-playing pianos created a mechanical algorithm through hardware pre-designed to operate the same every time whereas the Cyth Bot uses input from the game, and thus has an infinite number of possible performances. However, machines that play real musical instruments can only play the song the same way each time: it may be a good individual performance, but there is little difference between a musical recording and the robot at that point.  

What is more interesting is two possibilities. First, that a robot might eventually be designed to play a game like Super Mario Bros. Second, that a robot playing a real instrument might be able to ‘stylistically’ enhance its own performances based on variables in how it plays the notes. While it wouldn’t exactly have a ‘soul’, it would be a damn fine simulacra of one.

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