“Art”ificial Intelligence

A few decades ago when radios, walkmans, and a weekly show on Doordharsan which broadcasted popular melancholic tunes dominated the world of music, the thought of music on other devices was almost incredulous to the common man. Then came the Ipods, exclusively for music, which again are almost irrelevant now. Since the beginning of the age of internet, music websites have been the major source of music and smartphones unabashedly replaced a majority of devices which existed exclusively for storing music. This in itself was too much change for a large section of the population that almost would not believe how easy it was to play music without having to roll tapes on cassettes and turn them over. In too less a time for change in attitudes, science and technology have developed far more to a stage where deep learning is used to create art and music. A prime example of this would be Magenta, a Google project which seeks to create art and music from existing content.

This led to a huge outcry against AI intervention in aspects of life that have historically been highly personalized. This isn’t just another case of machine replacing human labour. This is far more complex issue because to many, art is representative of the artist and is reflective of their soul. It reflects their struggles in life, their attitude, and is a carrier of some form of message. It connects the listener to the artist in ways unimaginable and makes a Movement out of a piece of work. Since this is the power of creative genius, it is very hard for a lot of people to digest a machine even attempting to do the same, to replace someone who shaped them irrevocably. But is this judgement emotionally coloured and far too anti-consumerist? Let’s think from both ends of the spectrum here. The argument of art being highly personalized can be counter intuitive because of its inherent need to satisfy the listener or viewer. By that logic, AIs such as Magenta are more truly user specific because their analysis of the market trends reveals consumer preferences. This is untainted by the artist’s personal bias and music or art is truly produced to suit the needs of the people. Why is it so wrong to function on a market basis and match the product to the need just like other consumer goods? If we think about it, this exists in some form or the other already as EDM or auto tune which goes beyond the human capability in generating patterns and perfecting the experience to the listener. So why should this scrutiny be exclusive to AI of generational capacity?

Another contention that exists is the driving out of highly personalized art and music by this new commercialized medium eventually. The argument here is that room for innovation will be reduced as these commercialized products of art will now dominate markets and eventually make it unprofitable for musicians and artists to perform or create. I see two outcomes here. On the off chance that this does happen, it still doesn’t prevent musicians or artists to base their work on the market research on the basis of which AI functions in this paradigm. Under that scenario, now that both their works are market orientated, a good portion of the audience will choose the human forms over that of the AI. Thus, even this supposed worst case scenario isn’t absolute in any sense. What a lot of people fail to see is the cyclical replacement in all areas of creativity regardless of AI. We still do not popularly subscribe to music of the 60s, and artists replace artists over time and it is justified here because the new artist caters to an evolved creative need. This is exactly what AI does too. Assuming that the ultimate worst was to happen and personalized art and music is largely wiped out, what happens then. Over time, it starts to develop a niche crowd or audience and regain traction again. We’ve seen this in multiple instances over history right? Why do hand-woven sarees from Kancheepuram still make profits and remain close to our hearts despite mass produced modern clothes? Why does a classical Rolex sell at rates far outpacing Apple watches or Fitbits which serve a lot more purposes? This is because of the cycle of creative destruction which we can observe in all spheres involving humans. So no kind of art or music ever becomes absolutely extinct but only oscillates between being the crowd favourite and being the favourite of a niche population.

Adele, the only artist in Grammys history to sweep the Album, Record and Song of the Year twice, has used machine learning to stimulate certain emotions at specified intervals to stimulate the listener. Isn’t this helping Adele connect to us far more than she could have otherwise? It’s high time that people begin to accept changes as evolution for the better and not a blemish on their lifestyle. Art is inherently for innovation and these AI initiatives are the result of the creativity of various technicians across the globe. Thus it doesn’t make sense to dictate where innovation is to be allowed and what kind of innovation it should be. As long as art/music caters to the needs of the end user and continues to quench their creative thirst, why should people object? After all, it’s “Art”ificial intelligence.

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