In this piece for The Mint, Jaspreet Bindra invokes ‘the 27 club’ referring to a whole class of great musicians who coincidentally all died at the age of 27- the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and most recently Amy Winehouse, mostly to alcohol or drug overdose. But the piece is about the role of artificial intelligence in ‘art’. He relates to the 27 club in light of a recently released ‘Nirvana’ song but with no role of Kurt Cobain (who also died at 27) or any other member of Nirvana.
“A project called Lost Tapes of the 27 Club, focused on mental health in the music industry, recently released a song called Drowned in the Sun. It was touted as a never-heard-before Nirvana song. Except that this song was never written by Kurt Cobain or Nirvana and discovered from some old musty attic years later; it was written by an artificial intelligence (AI) engine. To be more precise, it was written by a neural network trained on the entire body of Nirvana’s work. Google created a neural network called Magenta in 2016, which was built using TensorFlow, the vast open-source deep learning and AI library that Google maintains. Magenta was specifically designed to “explore the role of machine learning as a tool in the creative process”. Nirvana’s tracks were fed into Magenta as MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) files—this format details the song and represents musical parameters like tempo and pitch, vocal melody and guitar riffs. The neural network found patterns and linkages in these different elements and used those to predict what could come next, and thus created an entire song. What is interesting is that Magenta did not act like one magic black box belting out new songs. Magenta wrote the music, but a separate neural network wrote the lyrics. Then, a team of Nirvana-loving humans sorted through pages and pages of output to find lyrics that fit the melodies created.”
Bindra cites a few other examples of how AI is entering a domain which humans thought was out of bounds given creativity can’t be ‘machine learnt’. But he takes a more positive view that rather than feeling threatened we should see AI as a tool that augments human endeavour in every which way.
“As artificial intelligence sprouts all around us to do things we thought only humans could—find directions, drive cars, design houses—creativity seems like the last bastion of humankind. “Creativity is a part of human nature,” said the artist Ai Wei, “it can only be untaught.” But still, are we managing to ‘teach’ AI to be creative in ways that threaten our species? Can it replace us? The interesting part in the Nirvana and Nikolay stories is not how AI does all the work we do, but how it actually collaborates with us and enhances it. “AI is serendipity,” says Kai Fu Lee, “It is here to liberate us from routine jobs, and it is here to remind us what it is that makes us human.” So perhaps AI ought to stand not for artificial intelligence, or even alternative intelligence, but augmented intelligence—to augment the vast resources we humans have, and help us do greater things than we have ever achieved.”
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