What the Heck Is It and What Does It Do? An AI Primer.
AI is the pursuit of and the ability to perform tasks and solve problems through modern computing that would ordinarily require human intelligence. Common occurrences of AI in our everyday lives are speech recognition, data aggregation (our shopping, dining, or listening habits, for instance) and word translation. Computer apps and programs are able utilize their ever-increasing intelligence to make our lives not just easier, but richer and deeper, too. Even Google CEO Sundar Pichai predicted it would have “a bigger impact than fire or electricity” back in 2016.
Meanwhile, the fields of medicine, environmental science, pharmaceuticals, immunology, shipping, customer service, and even stock trading have been driving innovation and enjoying greater productivity than ever before. According to the Quant Strats blog on 08/03/2021:
Traders can now take an oversight role—rather like airplane pilots—monitoring the autopilot and only intervening when something goes wrong, the route alters or the landing is more bumpy than usual.
I use AI on a regular basis in my work as a record producer, and have had more than my share of those “bumpy landings,” but I personally don’t have any moral quandaries regarding the use of the technology to improve the quality of the music I produce. Mostly because I use it to create variations on the themes I’ve already established musically. For example, I may have just one take of a bassline, and there may be sections where I’d like to hear variations on what I currently have to work with. I can render a few different takes and fix the original bass line with pieces from the new takes, as if the bass player came back and played a few more passes. These are small repairs that might otherwise be difficult to accomplish, depending on the situation.
Falling Skies and Rising Expectaions
Chicken Little is a kid’s fable with a moral regarding the blind trust of rumors or hearsay. I don’t know how long it’s been since I last heard that story. I kinda skipped it with my own kids.
Still, there’s a certain part of me that feels like maybe Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky, and Turkey Lurkey should’ve seen Foxy Loxy coming.
That sounds weirdly cryptic I know, but that’s exactly how I feel about the rising tide of AI-generated images, videos, and yes, music that have been conjured by simple text or image prompts that somehow reach way down into the yawning abyss of the worldwide web and pluck out results that range from ridiculous to the sublime.
But whose creative work is it? I mean, if you provided a set of prompts that included the keywords “guitar,” “blues,” and “Harry Potter,” you might come up with something that might even get the staff from Hogwarts up out of their chairs, but you still won’t have created the music; you’ve only influenced the eventual outcome of an algorithmic equation.
As AI-generating creatives are quick to defend their work and its rightful place within the world of art and music, it definitely gets a little dicey when it comes to defining creation within this context. There’s no doubt that one needs to be clever and inventive to even get a reasonable result from the current level of AI-generator technology, which in some folks’ estimation elevates those outcomes to the status of clever invention.
Case in Point: The Drake Song Generator
Sadly(?), it’s already been yanked out of commission, but the Drake Song Generator from Mayk.it enabled users to create one-minute Drake-styled songs about topic of their choice, performed in the voice of—you guessed it—Drake. You can still hear the posted results of some users here: https://www.vibe.com/news/tech/drake-song-drayk-it-ai-software-1234730792/
Okay so, here’s my deal with this: I like Drake, but I don’t love his music. Mostly because everything he does sounds the same to me, based upon a very strict set of identifiable music traits; including his tempos, lyrics, phrasing, and his go-to imagery. But what really weirds me out is the concept that music fans could possibly see a day in the not too distant future, where they can “vend” music they will probably like on demand. In other words, all of your music preferences could be used to synthesize a sort of aggregation mash-up, the sum of all your “likes” shaped into a music that doesn’t actually exist.
In that world, every song you hear is a new song, even if it’s regurgitating the same old things in different combinations, over and over. Or maybe imagine a Drake Greatest Hits album with 42,000 different songs on it.
What Comes Next?
It’s early, but it’s late, too. Too soon to ascertain just how the deeply AI will influence the creative and intellectual landscapes, but too late to do much about it, regardless of the outcome. That said, there’s plenty of opportunity to assess what can be accomplished on any side of the coming debate. In the meantime, rest easy. No one’s coming for your guitar, and there’s plenty of music still to be made!
Sven-Erik Seaholm is a record producer, singer, and songwriter. He will perform at the Adams Avenue Unplugged Festival at Hawthorne Coffee from 2-3 pm on Saturday, April 29th.