What Will Happen When Machines Write Songs Just as Well as Your Favourite Musician?

Artificial intelligence tools will hurt some musicians and help others. 

Ed Newton-Rex grew up immersed in music. As a child, he sang in the King’s College Choir in Eng­land and played piano. He went on to earn a music degree, and one of the things he studied was, “Why do people like music?” he told me. The answer, he learned, is that there’s no simple answer: It’s a deeply complex stew of art, timbre, and emotion.

Music is deeply mathematical, and it’s possible to represent melody using numbers and ratios. After finishing his undergraduate degree in 2010, Newton-Rex went to visit his girlfriend, who was studying at Harvard. He sat in on a coding lecture and became enraptured with the idea of writing software that could generate songs by harnessing the machine’s ability to semi-randomly recombine numbers. “Why haven’t computers been able to do this yet?” he wondered.

Over the next year, he set out to create a composing machine. He taught himself enough to code up a prototype that would create songs based on a set of simple rules. Before long, his system, Jukedeck , was cranking out instrumental tunes good enough to convince some investors to back him. He then hired programmers to rebuild his system using “deep learning” neural networks, the hot new artificial-intelligence technique. Neural nets can, in effect, learn on their own. Newton-Rex would feed thousands of melodies his team composed—pop, blues, folk, and other genres—into the system. The neural net would decode the deep patterns in the music and crank out new melodies based on what it had intuited.

The songs can be surprisingly good. It easily matched the quality of human work you’d hear in videos and ads. It would take a human composer at least an hour to create such a piece—Jukedeck did it in less than a minute. All of which raises some thorny questions. We’ve all heard about how AI is getting progressively better at accomplishing eerily lifelike tasks: driving cars, recognizing faces, translating languages. But when a machine can compose songs as well as a talented musician can, the implications run deep—not only for people’s livelihoods, but for the very notion of what makes human beings unique.

Article sourced from motherjones.com 



Get In Touch

Want to hear more about SBM's roster and services?

Get in touch