March 27, 2012 at 2:51 PM ET
In yet another sign that robotics are making jobs scarce, a German math and physics whiz has created an algorithm that could put professional music tuners out of work.
While digital tuners have long made it easy enough to keep a guitar in sufficient tune for sing-alongs around the campfire, the task is more difficult when it comes to pianos and other multi-octave instruments. MIT's Technology Review explains:
"Pluck a string and the sound it produces is the result of its fundamental frequency and its harmonics at frequencies that are whole number multiples of the fundamental. Clearly, harmonics have a simple linear relationship with the fundamental.
The problem arises because music consists of repeating patterns of notes based on octaves. Since the frequency of a note doubles from octave to octave, the frequencies grow exponentially as the octaves increase.
And therein lies the problem. The linear increase in the frequency of harmonics can never exactly match the exponential increase required when the notes are arranged in octaves. So there is always a compromise."
To get around the problem, professional piano tuners and their cohorts use their ears to minimize the mismatch. Haye Hinrichsen from the University of Wurzburg developed an algorithm that does this digitally well enough to potentially put professional music tuners out of work.
Piano tuners are, of course, just one more potential class of workers destined to lose out to robotics. For a close look at how jobs are getting automated and raising fears in middle-class America, tune in to Robots Ate My Job, a special series airing this week on America Public Media's Marketplace.
-- Via Technology Review
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.