April 2019

Music Composed by AI? Recent Google Doodle Foreshadows Creative Chaos

The next time you get a song stuck in your head, just remember, it might’ve been written by AI.

A recent Google Doodle called “Celebrating Johann Sebastian Bach” let users place up to 16 notes on a music staff, click a “harmonize” button, and use artificial intelligence to analyze over 300 Bach compositions, identify patterns in his music and create additional notes. The result? A few seconds of new music – all created by the computer. 

While it has a fun presentation and interesting output, I see it as the potential for something much more. Considering the “what ifs,” I can envision a clear path for AI to “pre-create” every possible (reasonable) musical combination, essentially forcing all future music work to be derivative of uncopyrighted baselines. Crazy, right?

The whole process takes under a minute, which includes the excruciatingly slow process of seeding the staff with notes. But, what would happen if you took the person out of the equation? What if the process started with 16 random notes and ran the technology billions of times against not only Bach, but against every artist and composer ever? What you’d end up with is an expansive ocean of music that would make it nearly impossible for creativity to break out of the sweeping, AI-created net of new material. Just imagine that. In countries where there are not yet any limits on AI copyrights, you could have billions of “songs” copyrighted weekly.

We’re currently in the technology’s infancy, but you can already see the effect this could have going forward.  With every slow human manipulation to try to head off a path like the scenario above, AI will be forging ahead with workarounds at breakneck speed.  It will be venturing into places with fewer boundaries such as art and literature and be taught to identify which works will be perceived by humans as pleasing. The implications for digital marketing – like ad serving, e-commerce and e-mail – are endless. “Testing” takes on a whole new meaning. More efficiency, less waste. But, as exciting as this is for the tech and analytics teams, it’s perplexing for our creative partners. Even considering the potential impact of the speed and accuracy that could create more hurdles for us as creative innovators going forward. With so much data to consider, the creative process could become more formulaic than one that is built with a level of subjectivity and a lot of intuition.

Why am I writing this and not stocking a bunker (or at the very least considering a new career)?  Because the one realm we still have a hold of is emotional intelligence.  As an agency, our job is to understand complex problems, interact with our peers, and deliver motivational activations that are designed around complex human behaviors and emotions. So while we can see the uncertainty of an AI future, we’re choosing to continue to expand our human qualities and embrace AI as a tool to help with heavy lifting.  We just may be doing it with AI-created songs in the background.

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