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The Dystopian Songs of A Player Piano

On the eighth day machine just got upset

A problem man had never seen as yet

No time for flight, a blinding light

And nothing but a void, forever night – Eighth Day, Hazel O’ Connor


Humanity’s prevalence is ending; AI threatens our collective lives and livelihoods and has taken aim at our very souls. In truth, automation and industrialization have provided many benefits, raising living conditions and improving comfort.  Despite its altruistic origins now, the machinery wants to take control of our most human activities, insidiously ‘collaborating in our creative endeavors—the demon seed already in our veins.

Six String Prophecies

The rage of Punk at the architecture and artifice of modern control is so prevalent as to approach tropism. Whether it is the structural insecurity of Souixie Sue’s Cities in Dust, the social ramifications in Bad Religion’s 21st Century Digital Boy, or Hazel O’Connor’s Doomsday scenario of 8th day- the danger looms just around the corner. Even the verbose and ever-present provocateur Henry Rollins could not resist reminding us that we should not panic; this is what Punk prepared us for.’ I fear it may not be enough.

Punk’s verve of DIY, embracing imperfection, and hearing raw emotions over ragged three-chord songs is the epitome (for me) of the human struggle for creativity.  It is the act of fighting to bring life to a sculpture, writing an evocative sentence, or wrangling emotion from a six-string that is the core of our humanity- it is the foundation of our very souls. Without it, we are hollow vessels cast out into a senseless sea.

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The Cake Is A Lie

Technology inhabits every aspect of our daily lives; we are closer to the beautiful mech horrors of the artist Crkshnk’s imagery than our organic origins. We are all too willing to accept virtual worlds, inhuman influencers, and algorithms that guide us to manufactured cultural discoveries and growth paths. Regardless of its ability to cater to us, the question looms of when the machines will direct with biased intent rather than to our desires.

I worked in the ‘smart technology ‘ industry, performing tasks ranging from running cable and programming code to managing teams and developing new products. In this world, the infamous Steve Jobs reality distortion field is still very real. Over ten years of industry involvement, my perspective shifted from wide-eyed Utopianism to out-right confusion and, finally, simmering dismay. There is a joke that automation engineers have the lowest tech homes, not because of a cobbler’s children syndrome, but because they are all too aware of its faults and perils.

Ghosts In The Machinery

The author Kurt Vonnegut, channeling his experiences from WWII, envisioned continuing social disruptions presented as progress. In his oft-overlooked book The Player Piano (published 1952), we are thrust into a world in the throes of a ‘second industrial revolution.’ Rather than relying on inefficient human workers, engineers have learned to record the most talented artisans for their machines to imitate.

The quest for eliminating individual foibles does not stop with manufacturing or logistics. The schism between the ruling engineers and workers is so great that they live in vastly inequitable regions. While exploring this other world, two of the story’s protagonists meet Rudy Hertz, a man on whom they modeled their algorithms. Rudy, proud he was chosen as the perfect example all those years ago, selects a song on the bar’s player piano in honor of his special friends. As the music plays without human intervention, the keys move with the ghostly swing of a musician long lost to everyone.

Waiting for the tune to finish and not embarrass Rudy, the main character looks out to nowhere, hoping he will not be alive when the approaching Third Industrial Revolution, one that devalues all human thought, arrives.

George Tucker

As part of the AV community, Tucker has over 30 years of experience working for professional recording studios, live event production, residential and commercial integration, Broadway tour support, technology writing, automation programming, and as a tech support manager for premier automation manufacturers.

George’s connection with AVNation goes back to the beginning, collaborating on Episode 0000 of AV Week and acting as host, producer, and general bon vivant over the first seven years. Currently, he is a Technical Specialist for a live events company. He enjoys deep dives into new music and perfecting the perfect Bloody Mary on his off time.


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