The X factor

2 min read

It’s one of the most popular shows on television and it’s viewed by over 10 million people in the UK each week.

It is, of course, The X Factor − an entertainment programme in which hundreds of hopeful singers perform in front of a panel of judges, hoping to impress them with their talent.

But last Saturday, when the X Factor show returned to our screens for the 2010 season, the producers found themselves embroiled in controversy.

This was all because they had admitted that some of the contestants’ voices were auto-tuned in post production before the show was aired − a commonly used audio enhancement technique that ensures that singers hit the right pitch every time they perform a song, no matter whether they actually do or not.

I was neither shocked by the news nor all that upset by it. After all, in today’s media, nothing is what it seems. Whether it is a song on the radio, an  image in a magazine, or a programme on television, it’s a certainty that some form of electronic enhancement has been carried out on it to make the end result more appealing to the listener or viewer.

But some viewers were horrified to hear that such technology had been used in the show, posting their opinions in no uncertain terms on a variety of social media networking sites. Personally, however, I think that these folks ought to examine the way that they use similar sorts of technology in their own lives before complaining more about the tactics used by the show’s producers.

After all, I’m sure that it would be impossible to find a writer among them who has not created a document on a computer, only to use a spell checker to ensure that the spelling is accurate or a thesaurus to look up an alternative word or phrase to enhance the meaning of their prose.

Interestingly enough, the world of engineering is no different. Here too engineers regularly bring to bear a number of computer-aided software techniques to improve the design, functionality or manufacturability of their creations.

Now, one might argue that there is a world of difference between enhancing the voice of a singer and deploying technology to augment a design. While any amateur can have their voice electronically transformed into perfection, it takes years of training to learn the principles of engineering and to deploy them in an intelligent fashion.

Indeed, the software tools used in engineering today merely allow designers to enhance the functionality of their designs based on a rigorously applied set of mathematical principles, rather than actually creating a good design from an inadequate one.

Well, at the moment they do at least. But I wonder how long it will be before the engineering equivalent of the auto-tuner emerges that will eventually enable a designer to automatically re-engineer even the most abhorrent idea into a more alluring one.

Best wishes,

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

Dave’s comments form part of the weekly Engineeringtalk newsletter, which also includes a round-up of the latest engineering products and services. To subscribe click here