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Can a Robot Write a Symphony?

AI Prompts have become a marketable art form

AI has democratized content creation with the ability to generate images from the “model” of images it was trained on. In the future — once the training models are big enough — anyone will be able to request a “new” film derived from existing content by asking AI something like:  

“Recreate Casablanca, but in color, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Natalie Wood, set in winter in a mountainous country, with a soundtrack by late-90s Aphex Twin."

Writing “prompts” like this will continue to become an art form in itself. Writing prompts always makes me think of Jodi Foster’s Dr. Arroway in Contact, when she is at a loss to describe the beauty she sees: “They should have sent a poet instead of a scientist.”

Popular media, as upvoted by humans, will rise to the top through crowdsourcing, i.e.: “likes.” These likes will continue to be heavily influenced by media companies — the way studios (or any business) spend on marketing, and similar to how record companies push their “commercial music” on radio (now Spotify, etc.) for financial ROI.  

Music seems especially susceptible to AI fever, thanks to the short length of the media itself, and passionate, passionate fans. Despite it being available to them, I don’t believe the majority of people are interested in creating new content or even mash-ups with AI, but the masses will probably be happy to consume higher-quality AI-generated content.

Music (arguably the first art form created by humans) has always been one of the first mediums to leverage new technology:

  • MIDI technical standard  
  • Digital files like .wav and .mp3
  • Editing on a home laptop
  • High-quality recording on a laptop
  • Streaming  

Although music hasn’t been in the news as much as imagery or chat, it will likely be at the vanguard of the AI revolution. Visual storytelling, being much more creatively and technically complex than music, will inexorably follow in music’s path to digital adulthood, as it has historically.  

Jumping further into the future, it’s easy to imagine music becoming flooded with an infinite number of generated songs, or each of us can have one long eternal soundtrack generated on the fly, all based on the mood we’re in.  

It truly seems like the only limit will be our imaginations.

I’ve written before about how the best results occur when humans and machines work together. Computers can't create art, but then again, most humans can't either. We should expect to feel threatened, even jealous, until we let go of our egos and learn to work with the machines. The 2004 film I, Robot provides a poignant example of this tension, as Will Smith's character inquires of the robot, "Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?" To which the robot astutely replies, "Can you?"

Originally published: 05/05/2023

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