Demand automated Cumbia

At the Monterrey Institute of Technology, Studio José de la O proposes a lab to build robots capable of playing Colombian-born popular music.

In the essay Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a world without work, philosophers Nick Srnicek and Mark Williams imagine a utopian realm in which all work will be done by machines, men will no longer need to work and will be supported by a universal income, guaranteed to all without distinction of class, gender or nationality.

Published in 2015, the text triggered a worldwide debate and introduced one of the great challenges for decades to come. In a recent declaration, young American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said “We should not be haunted by the specter of being automated out of work. We should be excited by that. But the reason we’re not excited by it is because we live in a society where if you don’t have a job, you are left to die. And that is, at its core, our problem.”

If the theories of philosophers Srnicek and Williams may seem radical, looking around us we are constantly finding signs that the world is going through an automation that, although it will not be complete, will upset the way in which we will conceive work and life.

These scenarios certainly fascinate many artists and designers, who contribute to the conversation with their aesthetic and functional experimentations. One example is the academic project RoboKumbia, which Studio José de la O has developed in collaboration with the Industrial Design School of the Monterrey Institute of Technology.

The aim of the research is to speculate on how technology will look in the Mexican urban context. The students each designed a robot capable of playing a different musical instrument: percussion, marimba, bass, and synthesizer. When synchronized, the robots play La Sampuesana, the first Cumbia song to be played in Mexico.

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