Why A.I. Will Not Take Over Music

Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay

It was early morning and Walks With Moon hard the faint rhythm of the drums far off in the distance. He stood still and cocked an ear, listening intently. The rhythm, the beat, the gaps and repeats. When he understood the meaning, he ran to the area his tribe was making home, looking for the elders. He told them that he’d heard the drums, that the first message for a PowWow had started. They gathered their drums, headed out of the camp and moved to a small clearing closer in distance to where Walks With Moon had heard the message and they began to reply with their own message. So what does this have to do with Artificial Intelligence?

Native Americans have been using drums for many centuries. For both conveying messages and other important cultural ceremonies. They believed that the beat of a drum was comparable to the heart beat and reflected the heart beat of Mother Earth. Other cultures around the world have been using drums in similar ways for thousands of years. As humans evolved their instruments and developed ever more complex forms of music, it became one of the core ways in which we communicate our culture. Humans use culture as our primary means of species survival. Yes, genetics play a part, but culture is the knowledge we use to live in our world.

Music tells stories. You may think that some modern pop music talking about bar hopping and parties is silly, but it also tells stories about how we live and interact socially. Then there’s country, folk, blues, jazz, rock n roll, bhangra, every culture on our planet has its own form of music.

Now, some AI can generate fairly complex songs and musical patterns. There was the case of Google’s Magenta creating a song based on Nirvana’s style; loud-quiet-loud. It did a fairly good job, not perfect. Ai can do mashups. Artists and researcher Mat Dryhurst in 2021, sang on stage at the Sónar festival in Barcelona. He was demonstrating his AI tool called Holly+. Except when he sang, his wife’s voice was what came out. All kinds of interesting experiments are going on using AI to generate music, for movies, TV shows and more.

But will AI music replace human generated music? Or, more precisely, can it? To some degree and in some cases, yes. Overall? Unlikely.

We may respond to some AI generated music, but that response may only be at a surface level and when the music has little to do with cultural transmission and ideas. Take Deep Fakes as an example. While we can be fooled at the surface level, new research is suggesting that our deeper consciousness can detect fake images. If so, it is highly likely the same can be said for music.

Music is deeply entwined with our primordial brain and our emotional responses. Music influences how subcultures express themselves through clothing and bodily expressions as well. Punk rockers with spiked hair, lots of leather and piercings. Goth music and similar clothing. Country music, cowboy hats, cowboy boots and jeans. Music can tie deeply into how humans visually express themselves, which communicates to other subcultures and society as a whole.

There’s also the kinship factor. We form relationships with our favourite bands and musicians, at a global level, such as with internationally renowned musicians and bands and at a very local level. Many families and communities have a local artists that they adore, or that person in the family who plays guitar or piano. This is bonding and various degrees of kinship. Important cultural aspects that an AI can’t replicate. I doubt anyone is going to ask cousin Mary to bring out her laptop to play a dance mix every summer by the campfire.

We will see more applications of AI and music and we may, for example, figure out some musical pattern with AI that can sooth the minds of some people who are neuro-divergent with autism, or help for those in a coma. But if someone makes a blanket statement that AI will replace human creativity in music, it is someone who doesn’t understand the role music plays in our cultures and societies. AI will find a place or places, but it will never replace human creativity.

We don’t fully understand the human creative process, let alone what intelligence means or even consciousness. So it is scientifically impossible for an AI to be able to create culturally relevant music. It may work in certain niches, but not in cultural transmission or evolution.

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious