Can computers do it better than humans?

Step aside Chopin and Mozart, robots are coming through...

The words ‘artificial intelligence’ are two that are dropped with increasing frequency into everyday conversation - and rightly so. The growing significance of AI is indisputable; the future of computers is bright and exciting, but it seems that with every technological development emerges a new worry about the replacement of humans with gizmos. It’s becoming increasingly evident that mathematically, we’re just not quite as sharp as our cyborg creations, but in terms of creativity? Can we expect a fleet of automated Mozarts to flood the music world within the next 20 years?

Inherently, I always felt the notion of living, breathing composers being replaced by a motley of wires and algorithms to be almost laughably inconceivable. Repetitive, methodical computer-composed music (like this, perhaps), I get. But how on earth could an inanimate object capture and convey raw human emotion as movingly as a real person? The idea seemed - and indeed, still does seem - beyond comprehension. Is the essence of our creativity really so simple that it can be reduced to a bit of code? Iamus, arguably the first computer to independently compose a piece of music, suggests that it is. Have a listen to its first composition here (1.45 onwards).

It might not be as ear-pleasing as Chopin but really, does it have to be? Those like Schoenberg have already proven that music doesn’t necessarily have to sound ‘pretty’, and to me, it’s perhaps more impressive that ‘Hello World’ sounds more The Silence of the Lambs than classical, because it’s modern and it’s unsettling. Just because systems like Iamus have proven that computers have the capability to produce beautiful music, though, it doesn’t mean that human composers will suddenly find themselves out of business. Rather than bemoaning the bleakness of an AI-dictated future of music, why not celebrate the benefits that such developments present to composers? I only hope that in our lifetime, humans and machines will begin working in synergy as exploratively within the field of the creative arts as that of the sciences. The opportunities for artistic breakthrough are limitless.

Lara Schull VII