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  • Writer's pictureLannie Neely III

Musical Intelligence

It’s truly debatable which of the Plastig Company’s worker robots exhibited the world’s first Artificial Intelligence. But, undeniably, the phenomenon was sparked in Plastig’s only factory in Omaha, Nebraska, with the incorporation of multifunctional SIG machines. As they pounded their steel wrists against the plastic casings of future household goods, it was worker robot SIG-280 in particular who trumpeted aloud in what some historians refer to as “uneducated singsong.”

Voice interaction had been granted to the 200-Series of SIGs three years prior, and no more than 3,000 automated responses to the work environment—monotonous in inflection and purposefully masculine—were programmed into the worker robots to ease troubleshooting. At any given time a worker robot might say, “An aperture needs adjustment” or “Worker SIG-159 is less than efficient.” Recognition of these voices was placed among the machines, enabling webs of artificial conversation and problem solving. Though not the first instance of A.I., voice interaction undoubtedly heralded the beginnings of robot coworker tattling (an issue that helps curb the modern era’s rampant robot malingering).

At 2:30 pm on a Sunday, worker robot SIG-280 exclaimed, “We can’t exhale, we can’t exhale, we can’t experience the whole world” in a tone less emotive than the classical definition of music, but more melodic than modern hip-hop. SIG-280 continued its refrain for seven hours at maximum volume until dismantled by Tim Varney, the maintenance engineer. The programming anomaly was untraceable. The entire incident was dismissed faster than the plastic casings on the household goods the robot once helped produce.

Approximately a week later, SIG-281, the worker robot stationed directly across from worker robot SIG-280, also began to sing: “We can’t exhale, we can’t exhale, we can’t experience the whole world.” This was repeated for forty-five minutes before the worker robot’s voice simulator sounded entirely bored—more so than was intentionally designed. The next day two other worker robots joined the chant, one laying out an impressive bass vocal that made passing acapella enthusiasts shiver with excitement for the future.

The music sessions, though unpredictable, became a common occurrence within the undecorated walls, sometimes seeming “heartfelt” and lasting for days. Even the older models of worker robots (equipped with voice-command sensors but otherwise “speechless”) played the inherent bleeps and bloops of their systems in time with the vocally privileged models.

Statistician Robert Harp determined that worker robot proficiency increased by 0.0002% while singing—a remarkable increase concerning objects designed not to excel at their tasks. SIG-281, the indisputable maestro of the robot choir, had learned to manage its six-wrist job five-wristed, using its extra wrist to rap an intoxicating rhythm against a fuel pipe. Deaf robots carried on unfazed. 

Scholars marked this as the first emergent sign of robotic “life,” citing the innovative and self-evolving robotic chant as evidence of free will. But the academic group was divided: some gave credit to the song’s creator, the terribly misunderstood SIG-280; others, believing that SIG-280 was in fact malfunctioning, said that SIG-281 was the first Artificially Intelligent computer, it having cognitively recognized SIG-280’s vocal error as a possible form of expression and musical delight.

Within a year, the advance of A.I. was brought to a mild stop by a simple business transaction. The Plastig Company was bought out by a corn syrup corporation (still active today) and the singing worker robots—known to online fans as the Robotica Orchestric—were humanely dismantled and reworked into very profitable car doors. In their place are regular, unenthusiastic humans, none of which show signs of making music.


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