My friend Federico Pistono is smart. Don’t miss his new book, Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That’s OK. It’s even on his site for free, because you know, he’s from the future and stuff.
Anyway, I just wrote him a longer-than-is-probably-reasonable email and I thought I would share it with you. It’s about music and artificial intelligence.
“….I’ve been DYING to discuss something with you. DYING.
Artificial Intelligence and music. I had a profound realization.
So….. Kurzweil and others, they tend to talk about music as if it’s already being done by automation and AI as if it’s just about to be done by automation. I think both of these concepts are wrong, and my reasoning sprouted from a lifetime of thinking about music.
I remember reading Spiritual Machines as a 15-year-old kid. I just lucked out – I loved this album called Spiritual Machines by Our Lady Peace… and I saw a book by the same title in the school library and picked it up. It changed the course of my intellect forever. But I recalled Kurzweil saying that computers were making music, that they were already writing pieces indistinguishable from great classical composers, problem solved, moving on.
But he is clearly a little off in my opinion. Actually, shoot, take for example Our Lady Peace, and their album Spiritual Machines, what better example. This song from Spiritual Machines, for example….. what makes that a cool song? (listening now, I’m not as impressed as 15-year-old Chris… but, you know, it’s still very cool) One thing that springs to mind (and influenced my songwriting actually) was the QUIET chorus. This requires the use of irony…. a knowledge of the history of music, general pop song paradigms (the chorus is LOUDER), and a decision to do the exact OPPOSITE for ironic and emotional effect. The melody is particularly sad and beautiful…. I LOVE the perfectly timed imperfections in the vocals in the second chorus…. but this goes hand-in-hand with the ironic element of the quiet chorus and the lyrical content. Although, lyrics were never this band’s THING…. they focused on clever melodies and cool arrangements and great rock drumming… but the melody in this chorus…. it’s so rare and gorgeous for so many complex reasons…. it would be hard to describe, but it basically presents one melodic idea (which has elements of a contrasting FLIPPANCY and PASSION, both opposites, embedded in the melody) and then it repeats it within a new harmonic context as the chords change. It has a typical IV – I – minor vi – V progression, but uses this sweet and emotional progression in a very honest and brave way. The melody in the first half of the section is is awesome, but then the chord change emphasizes the melody, puts it in a new harmonic context, a minor context, a new emotional light, and drives it deeper into your heart. The song presents a melody and shows it to you from different angles, and the song brilliantly follows the Our Lady Piece “sound”… a set of laws that describe their entire, mostly cohesive musical universe.
And that’s in 7 seconds of music. And I could talk about the melody for ten more pages if I had all afternoon. Was the lead singer thinking these things when he wrote the track?
Consciously… maybe some of it. Maybe not. But these are all elements that DO go into great music, elements of irony, humor, grief, mathematical intellect, cleverness, playfulness, sexiness, flippancy, cultural relevance, genre context…. these things all go into every piece I write to varying degrees, and the list could go on for paragraphs, but all of this happens naturally inside a good songwriter when he or she writes.
My point is this. Until you have full artificial intelligence, you will NOT have a great composer robot. I’m sorry. It just won’t happen.
Can automation write shit music? Certainly! I work in advertising, and we pump out shit music all day long. (Exaggerating a little, bear with me.)Computers could DEFINITELY write ad music. It follows a formula, it’s collectivism-inspired, socially conscious, with an emphasis on cultural fads and popular sounds (which usually die out), it says nothing. In fact, I have ideas about creating software for Ad firms that would allow them to generate music themselves for their projects…. it would be easy.
You could sit people in a room and play them a piece written by a computer and a piece written by Beethoven and they will choose the wrong answers. That’s because people are idiots, to put it bluntly. Give them a year with that piece. See which piece is still around in 100 years. Also, just playing patters and chords algorithmically could produce awesome results sometimes…. music is inherently cool, and ear candy. Randomness makes cool music very often…. but you still need a creative mind to sort through the mostly mediocre, bland, arbitrary stuff. I have happy accidents all the time. But to put value and creative context to those random things requires….. something else. Something automation does not have, and artificial intelligence, when it is here, will.
I know these points have exceptions, but stay with me.
I’m frustrated that it’s not obvious to Kurzweil. You can automate great music writing, but it would require a complete artificially intelligent being. Music, despite it’s discreet and mathematical nature, requires every high-functioning element of intelligent thought and energy to do be done greatly.
I often have issues with certain kinds of music. People focus on the technical, the predictable, the mathematical. For example. Miles Davis? Creative genius. Created genres. Explored musical realms so complex and beautiful and intense that sometimes his music brings me to tears and leaves helpless, grieving and euphoric. But I minored in jazz piano at school. What about all the jazz nuts who spend hours in the practice room learning Miles’ lines and getting faster and better at them? They think that’s valid music. It’s easy to automate now….. programs can import all of Davis’ solos and it can automate “improvised” solos over chord progressions. And this is how much of modern jazz is played. Which is why it’s fucking boring. It’s all about the skill, relearning things, perfecting a technical model that has already been done better. It might be music…. but it’s not the kind of music I’m interested in.
My friend is writing a book on his pop song algorithm. He’s figured out how to create the most probable pop hit down to the nanosecond of the intro.
Is this music? It might be some kind of music…. but not the music I’m interested in. In fact, it repulses me.
Pop songs. Songs by committee Advertising music. Most jazz solos. Most classical music. Most rock music. It’s all…… arbitrary.
This is different.
This is different.
This is different.
Which leads me to my second point. What is intelligence? I know this is a tired question right now, but really. What the fuck is it?
I think I’m starting to understand. An intelligent being is a being who is able to make explanations.
It’s CLOSE to Kurzweil’s pattern-based model. But he doesn’t quite have it. I think it involves explanations. Forming a series of explanations is man’s only advantage. It’s not processing power, as Kurzweil tends to assume. If this were true, evolution would have easily solved the problem. It took a looooong time…. brains have been around for quite a while, and it’s not about pure processing power, size, what have you. There’s something uniquely human. We make explanations. We create casual explanations (probably related to pattern finding, but deeper). Then we manipulate the explanations of the world to see what would happen (in our prefrontal cortex probably) if those explanations were different. We create laws of physics in our heads and fuck with them.
Explanation finding is key.
Hence, I was thinking about AI. We have this image that androids will be ubiquitous, cold, calculating machines. I think true AI will have to grow and learn and create it’s own explanations. I predict that AI will be emotional…. MORE emotional maybe…. than humans. It will be creative and be interested in art, in fact, when it becomes advanced, we probably won’t even understand it, like a caveman hearing Stravinsky. I predict that they will each be unique and varied. This is because the explanations they create are different, as with humans. We’re all sooooooo different have you noticed? Humans start with a clean slate. Little is pre programmed. Nature hit on a gold mine with the concept of creating an organ that can quantify information and create causal, explanatory systems to embody and manipulate the universe.
I think we WILL create AI. And I think AI WILL create music. But it ain’t as close as some people tend to assume. I PROMISE. Automation is not creative intelligence. There is one more profound mystery to be solved there, and I think that when it is found, it will change everything forever.
What do you think?”