Are You Ready For AI Music?
Up front, I'm going to have to say that the mere subject of "A.I." ("artificial intelligence") is one which brings my blood pressure to an instant, explosive boil. This is due to the fundamental and irrecoverable state of ignorance on the part of all humanity regarding this topic.
The idiot public which does not have the first clue about how computers, physics, or science works
The idiot education system which fosters outright hatred for teaching any technology topic
The idiot media which deliberately assigns the stupidest reporters to tech and science stories so they can fire off panicky doomsday predictions as clickbait
The idiot government which can't legislate its way out of a paper bag when it comes to tech
The idiot Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who go around hyping this technology which is over-promised and under-performing by a factor of millions
The idiot business sector which is convinced that if they just keep throwing money into AI research, the day will come when they never have to pay an artist ever again
The idiot artists who are rock-steady certain that AI will replace them
All of the above people are wrong about everything even bordering on the topic of "A.I." The damage has advanced too far to recover. Don't look for the future fall of society; we are in a Dark Age right now, reduced to primitive savages hooting and jumping around the great Black Monolith of technology, a shiny box of demons we don't understand.
Having devoted most of my life now to advocating for technology education - and catching backlash from all sides for it - I have sworn off my former foolish optimism that the world can be saved, and now just munch popcorn watching it burn. Kinda what we're all doing, in different respects. Just take my word for it going forward, whenever I write "A.I.," I am making sarcastic air quotes and accompanying vomit noises because what pops into your head when you read "A.I." has no more connection with any facet of reality than magic faeries.
But here I am with another "A.I." story to report. This time, will you all PLEASE remain seated and not run off in screaming insanity until I'm finished explaining this? It is not a god, nor a devil, nor a genie. It's a computer program that generates content from a prompt. It can't hurt you, it's not that different from previous attempts at content generation, and it won't put anybody out of work. Again.
Google Introduces MusicLM
MusicLM is yet another "A.I." algorithm which works just like GPT / ChatGPT / Craiyon / other "A.I." content-generating programs. It's been trained on a data-set of music (this time Creative Commons works, as opposed to the wanton piracy of authors' and artists' works which built GPT). It then takes a text prompt as input and outputs a snatch of music roughly matching the text prompt's description.
Isn't that peachy keen, jelly bean? As is always the case with "A.I." generated content, the results are just about dismal when compared to even the simplest human-composed work. Some examples of MusicLM's output are playable on that page I linked to. You can hear for yourself, this is mostly an academic curiosity, with some minor commercial applications.
But it's not going to put musicians out of work. At the very most, it is handy for generating a quick place-holder tune, for things like video game soundtracks, loading screens, video intros, podcast themes, corporate training videos, and so on. If you recall back to our piece on "Nothing Music," as YouTuber Tantacrul coined it, we already have dozens of music generating apps which put out a decent synthesizer loop after just hitting a few buttons. Music "A.I." just pushes the buttons for you, based on half-educated guesses and your prompt.
A Million Bots Do Not A Band Make
Lest you think Google is an extreme outlier in this, there are in fact several competing "A.I." music generating engines already. This post lists seven of them, including one from the GPT people. Google's MusicLM is innovative in the way it accepts prompts. It can take images and audio as well as texts, and has a number of features such as setting up sequences of moods and style shifts, or setting the technical complexity of the music. But outside of that, they haven't made much more progress than any of the other generators.
One notable limitation is that human vocals are pretty much garbled across the spectrum. This isn't like a synthesizer where it's playing samples that always sound the same; this is using the same tired Markov chain technology to produce sounds that are like the sampled sounds. In other words, we have the same glitchy output that causes "A.I."-generated art to produce humans with seven-fingered hands and the cursed ChatGPT to output garbled sentences and misstated facts.
An important note: Google is not releasing MusicLM! They are merely submitting it as an academic paper. The other "A.I." music generators are going ahead and launching. Google is holding back because, of course, MusicLM output contains too many unaltered chunks of the original works it was trained on. This is true of ALL "A.I." generated work! ChatGPT, the Craiyon image app, and all the other "A.I." generators are actually nothing but automatic plagiarism machines. They steal work from online, change a few details, and spit out a result which is a chop suey of the training data.
Is It Ever Going To Be Art?
If you think you've never experienced "A.I." generated art without knowing it, you're mistaken. We have been using generation methods to make randomized art almost as long as we've had artists. The concept is called "generative art," any media which is produced by a set of rules and algorithms, whether automatically, randomly, or based on a guiding prompt. This includes everything from software that generates random images (screensavers are big on this), to randomized noise generators, to video game and 3D rendering routines that generate whole cities and even worlds. You want story elements for world-building? Seventh Sanctum can name your cities and wizard spells, and even roll up whole characters and plots.
We just never called it "A.I." before and never before has the mass culture, as one, suddenly decided that generating programs mean "we don't need human artists anymore." Hopefully we recover from this collective mass hysteria, but knowing how technology topics are handled by the media… We'll just rush into the next mass hysteria without learning a thing.
The forging of artificial intelligence is a task forever beyond the means of the naturally stupid.