Is WAM Real? 'Mozart In The Jungle's Conducting Robot Isn't An Unfathomable Innovation
Spoilers for Mozart In The Jungle, Season 4, Episode 6. While it can often feel like more and more jobs are being lost to automation and technology, surely the arts must be safe from such a threat. How could a robot replicate the nuance, the intention, or the sheer humanity of art? This question gets asked in Season 4 of Mozart In The Jungle when Rodrigo is set up to compete with an conducting robot named WAM. While neither the robot nor the storyline may be 100 percent accurate to reality, a machine sort of like WAM has already successfully conducted an orchestra in real life. (Sorry, Rodrigo.)
According to The Verge, a robot named YuMi successfully conducted an orchestra and world-famous vocalist Andrea Bocelli through three different pieces of music in 2017. But he's not the same as the WAM robot featured in Mozart In The Jungle. WAM is programmed specifically to conduct the work of its namesake — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — having been given all available information about the composer and educated in all of his music. YuMi was not built specifically to conduct music. According to creators at ABB Robotics, the general product was intended to function in a setting "where people and robots work side-by-side on the same tasks." YuMi is not meant to replace human conductors – in fact, it wouldn't work without a conductor to teach them how to do what they do.
The Verge reported that the robot's ability to conduct an orchestra was honed via motion capture of maestro Andrea Colombini. A process called lead-through programming was used, an approach in which the robotic arms basically mirror precisely what the conductor is doing. While the robot was emulating a human conductor in his debut, the maestro that YuMi replicated was impressed with the performance. Colombini said in a statement that "the gestural nuances of a conductor have been fully reproduced at a level that was previously unthinkable to me."
While YuMi's performance is impressive, Colombini admited that "YuMi is good when it comes to technique but is ultimately not gifted with human sensitivity." The conductor imagined that YuMi's orchestral abilities could be useful, in that it "could serve as an aid, perhaps to execute, in the absence of a conductor." However, when it comes to going head-to-head with another composer in some kind of competition like what is organized in Mozart In The Jungle, there is no as of now that can provide the same sensitivity and response that a human does.
YuMi had a team of programmers working off of Andrea Colombini to create a believable performance, while whoever programmed WAM for Fukumoto was merely going off of data points and facts. While YuMi was programmed to emulate human behavior, WAM's existence — to Rodrigo's chagrin — suggests that being human is not required to properly conduct It's no surprise that by the end of the episode where WAM is introduced, Rodrigo ends up hurling it into a pond.
While Rodrigo had no interest in humoring WAM, there's a chance that he may have been a little less violent with YuMi. If anything, YuMi is the ultimate tribute to how difficult it is to truly be a composer. The programmers behind YuMi aren't attempting to create a composer, they're simply trying to emulate one specific person. If Rodrigo had been told that a fleet of YuMi's would be studying and emulating him, he may be more interested in entertaining the idea of robotic composers.
For the brief moments that Mozart In The Jungle appeared to be more like an episode of Black Mirror, the show examined what happens when classical music crosses paths with modern technology. Mozart and the programmers that created YuMi seem to both agree that a robot will never truly be able to replace a conductor with a beating heart.