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Robots that play like Monk, and growth in the online job market

A woman sings a karaoke song accompanied by piano played by a robot at the Science and Technology Museum in Shanghai.

There's the government's official employment and unemployment report today, but what about prospects for the kind of jobs you do online? Elance, a company that uses the web to fix up freelancers with jobs, has a 2013 forecast with a bold prediction: One out of four college students in this new year will earn money through online jobs. 

"We're seeing a viral phenomenon where if somebody on a specific campus discovers they can make money by working online, they quickly tell their friends," says Rosati. "And it's a variety of skills. Market research jobs, writing jobs, and translation jobs," says Fabio Rosati, the CEO of Elance.

Rosati says lack of healthcare is a key barrier to online work, something he thinks could change if health care reform brings about cheaper coverage. 


There's confirmation the U.S. government is not throwing the book at Google. The Federal Trade Commission says Google's search system doesn't violate anti-trust law. Still, the company will stop snatching product reviews from rival websites. What's all this mean for mortals? Continue to be on the lookout for Google search results that companies paid for. These might be just what you were looking for. Or, there might be better items further down the search list that were not Google's friends, relatives, and business partners.


If I said there's a machine that makes music by itself, you'd be unimpressed. Player piano, wind up monkey with banging cymbals -- so what. But what if there's a robot that will improvise music along with you, that is to say, pick up on what you're playing and make something new?

That's what Georgia Tech's music technology professor Gil Weinberg says he's done with the robot Shimon. Take a listen.

This one-eyed, four-armed robot is improvising, taking live cues from human bandmates. But don't worry jazz players, Weinberg says he's not trying to make you obsolete.

"I don't think that robots will be better musicians," says Weinberg. "I'm not trying to do that. I'm just trying to push the envelope and create new interactions."

Weinberg's robot mimics the styles of greats, like Monk or Coltrane, by using data sets taken from the real musician's improvisations and turning them into directives. 

"Based on statistics, we tried to figure out based on every given note what is likelyhood for each note to come after it," he says, "or what is the interval in terms of rhythm and pitch, in Thelonious Monk playing. "

The algorithms Weinberg and his colleagues built inform the robot's own performance style and choice of notes. He says some day we could sit in our living room, set our robots to Jimmy Page or Miles Davis, and hit play.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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