A Modern Ethical Dilemma

One of our ‘Big Hit’ Christmas presents every year is the traditional ‘family game’ which makes sure we get the chance to play together and, according to the experts, stay together. Usually, it’s a board game, but this year, to commemorate the family’s introduction to Karaoke at my Mum’s 60th birthday, we got ourselves ‘Singstar‘.
By way of introduction to the un-console-able, it’s a karaoke machine (with microphones) for the Playstation 2, with the big bonus that the technology gives you a score based on how well you sing. That’s right. It analyses your pitch, your tone and your timing and presents you with a score at the end of the game, which you can compare with your brother/sister/wife/husband and use for bragging rights for oh, let’s say, the next few weeks. Or until someone practices some more.
It’s great fun.
Now, let’s propose a hypothetical situation. You’re a music director of a large church. You’re responsible for auditioning singers for the worship team. Do you use this technology?
Why do I use the church example? If I were a ‘secular’ band leader or director, I would have no qualms about calling it as I saw it – if you’re a bad singer, you’re out, sunshine. However, in church circles, there’s always pressure to work with less-than-perfect musicians, because, really,it’s the ministry that counts. (I’m not interested in a debate about ministry and talents, but I can deal with that off-line, if you’d like.) Having been in both situations before, I know that there’s real pressure in the church to accept musicians based on qualities beyond their appreciation for pitch and rhythm.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a dispassionate, standard measure of vocal talent beyond your own opinion, so that you would not be blamed of favouritism or any one of a number of other partialities when the teams are announced? Would it not be better to reduce a vocal ability to a number which you could treat in isolation to a myriad of other abilities? “I’m sorry, but your pitch rating is way off. That’s not my opinion, by the way: look at your score”
Of course, the mere idea of asking singers to audition to a machine is a Horrific Thought. I should dismiss it straight away, shouldn’t I?
But what about any one of a number of other areas of life where the rich complexity of our capabilities and talents are reduced to a single number? Finance applications. University entrance scores. Income. And, of course, there’s the big one, Age.
Given that this is probably one of the first times this sort of technology has been made available on a mass-market scale, it will be interesting to see whether it creeps into any other areas of life. Would Australian Idol auditions be more productive with this technology? Can you envisage Channel 10 bringing back ‘Dexter’, of Perfect Match fame, to give a rating of each contestant on their scientifically monitored pitch and timing? Can we borrow Channel 9’s ‘election debate worm’ so we can actually see the moment someone falls off the note?
I’m not saying that pitch, quality and timing are everything. (cough cough BOB DYLAN cough.) It’d just be sooo cool to have something to compare people with, other than the opinions of Dicko, Holden and Hines. Or myself.
I think I get some idea of how those mad scientists feel. Here we have the power to advance the music industry in strange new ways, all of which are too icky to contemplate.

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