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In the prologue of futurist Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 book, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, he quotes inventor Nikola Tesla: “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success.” Although R&B artist T-Pain did not invent Auto-Tune, his novel use of the technology has forever merged his identity with the audio processor since he released his album Rappa Ternt Sanga in that same year. His inventive vocal manipulations were intended to turn his voice into an instrument, like a saxophone, to replicate the ’60s vibe of predominantly instrumental songs, he told Mashable in 2011. He later went on to release an “I Am T-Pain” Auto-Tune app and “I Am T-Pain” microphone, further cementing his connection to the technology.
Kurzweil’s book predicts a fast-impending future propelled by accelerated change in which humans evolve to rely upon technologies to accomplish more. Computers are able to process information at speeds exponentially greater than the human brain, and relying upon computers to draw conclusions (before taxing our relatively sluggish synapses with the same request) will eventually redefine the concept of what it is to be human, much like Auto-Tune redefines the concept of the human voice. Kurzweil forecasts that computers will soon have human intelligence, and with that come human emotions and self-motivation, a vision for the world that the Academy Award-winning 2013 science-fiction film Her only barely brushed fingers with.
What then is to be absorbed from the experiences of T-Pain, whose relationship with Auto-Tune eventually broke him down and crashed his Hard&B drive, silencing the singer for three years following the pejorative reaction to his 2011 release, Revolver?
Although insults were thrown both ways – T-Pain criticized artists who failed to understand the technology the way he did, saying he studied its mechanics for two years, and fans, critics and artists alike declared that T-Pain’s reliance on the tech communicated a creative weakness – T-Pain martyred himself to VladTV (“T-Pain Explains ‘Future doesn’t know how to use Auto-Tune’ Comments”), saying, “Any originator of anything is going to be the lesser-known, because it’s the newest thing. It’s not right, but that’s just how shit goes.”
He was upset that Kanye West’s 2008 album 808s and Heartbreak was critically acclaimed as revolutionary when it was very much informed byRappa Ternt Sanga. Then, the Lonely Island invited him to mock his style in the song “I’m On a Boat,” adding insult when the song was nominated for a Grammy, the technology propping him up while simultaneously taking him down.
Ahead of his time and his creativity denied, T-Pain became depressed and shut down, but Kurzweil’s more idyllic perspective on the impending merger of man and technology claims, “The Singularity will allow us to overcome age-old human problems [we ask, including depression?] and vastly amplify human creativity.”
Now T-Pain is back, and his new release, Stoicville: The Phoenix, (due out this year) imagines a classically robotic world with no emotions. He isolated himself in a home studio, shutting out any outside opinions, to create an album that is true to him. And, yes, that includes employing his signature technology, Auto-Tune. The first single, “Up Down (Do This All Day),” was rewarded with positive reception, amassing 24 million views for the accompanying video on YouTube as of this writing. His attitude is improved – he could even be called chipper in recent interviews – but whereas Kurzweil is optimistic about human capacity to benefit from technological enhancements, T-Pain seems to be a working model of how emotionally destructive that alignment can, and maybe will, be.
When that time comes, hopefully we still have human bartenders to buy us a drank.