AI: Nagging Questions

I was pretty excited the other day to find out that someone is doing a study to find out how jazz musicians actually make a living. With the measly pay most of us get for gigs combined with the exorbitantly high overhead, it’s a surprise anyone survives at all. I’m glad someone was curious enough about this dilemma to put the energy into studying it.

Recently, there was also a study done on what makes songs catchy. Again, someone got curious, did the research, and found out that, contrary to years of successful radio jingles and pop hits, longer and more complex melodies are better? I’m dubious. But that’s not the point; the point is that they looked into a question that was nagging at them.

If you had unlimited resources (money, intelligence, time), what question would you want to find the answer to? This doesn’t have to be the answer to life, the universe and everything — it can be as simple as “Does anyone actually enjoy eating karob?” What are you curious about? What great study would you put into motion if you had the will?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.

Ashley Hamer

Ashley Hamer (aka Smashley) is a saxophonist and writer living in Chicago, where she performs regularly with the funk band FuzZz and jazz ensemble Big Band Boom. She also does standup comedy, sort of, sometimes. Her tenor saxophone's name is Ladybird.

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  1. Off the top of my head, I’d like to know if there are other intelligent life-forms in the galaxy. I don’t know how I’d allocate the funds or what-have-you. I’d probably just call Neil DeGrasse Tyson and say “Hey! Figure this out! Blank check and all that.”

  2. I want to know exactly how one should position one’s knee over the pedal of bicycle to produce maximum efficiency in energy transfer while maintaining a healthy knee joint. There is an almost universally accepted standard for this that is, as far as I can determine, based purely on tradition.

    I’d also like to know if it’s possible to build an instrument which in real time adjusts the pitches being produced so that every chord is as perfectly tempered as possible. I suspect that we now have enough processing power for a keyboard sort of instrument to do this, but I’d also like this thing to be able to hear the rest of an ensemble and have every instrument adjust to each other.

  3. @Coelecanth,

    Q1: I happen to be a bicycle researcher, and the proper answer to your question is: It’s complicated. Every point in the rotation of the pedal has a different optimal body configuration so the best place to be is sort of the average of those but not exactly. And yes, an enormous amout of bicycle design is based on tradition and experience rather than science.

    Q2: Yes it is possible. There are some engineering undergraduate students that designed a real-time grand piano tuner at my university.

  4. I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek dissertation about driver interactions. I was thinking that there must be a relation to how many faults we witness/condemn/suffer and how many we do commit ourselves. Also, a relation to how many “angry interactions” to actual accidents. Add gender to the formula and you have something for Cosmo mag!

  5. Ryan, I’m truly embarrassed to say that I hadn’t read the bio that appears under every post you do. I’m not sure I’d have asked the bike question if I had. 🙂 I have more than a passing interest in the subject of bicycles because it took me 43 years to buy a vehicle with a motor in it and because I own a small bike shop in rural Australia.

    You should be very grateful we didn’t meet at a dinner party or somesuch where you weren’t free to flee. I own both the first and third editions of Bicycling Science and I’m constantly pestering people who have any level of scientific training about what they know about bicycles. Yah, I’m THAT guy. Lately I’ve been cornering anyone who is foolish enough to profess a knowledge of physiology, physiotherapists are oddly enough are pretty commonly keen cyclists. I don’t ever have to fit professional racers but I routinely have to work around physical disabilities in the elderly, At the moment for instance I’m looking into retro-fitting hydraulic disc brakes to a ladies sit-up-and-beg comfort bike for a retiree with arthritis. I’d like to do these things knowing that I’m actually up to date on the best practices.

    Anyway, thanks so much for the answers. I fully expected to have someone tell me that my idea for a self intonating instrument was already a done deal. The first time I looked into it was in 1988 and I found that A) the processing power really wasn’t there yet in any affordable way and B) I didn’t have the maths skills to understand the theory behind musical temperament.

  6. I would seriously like to know how thoughts are represented in primates brains.

    We kind of assume it’s non-verbal – but I see no evidence that rules out the possibility they have a rich internal language, which they cannot sign or vocalise.

    If it’s non-verbal – what is it? When they ‘remember’ a long not-seen member of their troop, clan, species – what is that ‘remembering’ like? When they work out that a twig dipped in a termite hole gives them good eating – what is the concept of ‘tool’ in their head? How do they maintain concepts like ‘more’ and ‘better’ without those words? Even the concept ‘more betterer’? I think this is really an urgent question, as upon it’s answer lies a greater understanding of the human animal and it’s odd behaviours.

    If you would allow a second partially related burning question :
    What would be the effect of sponsoring comedy and comedians in countries that are still supporting out-moded societal traditions? How much societal change could a Somalian Lewis Black achieve against F G M? How much debate about Sharia would a Pakistani George Carlin provoke? How much political change would a Kenyan Bill Maher cause?

    These are the most important questions for me right now.

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