January 27, 2019

Nick Cave On the Limitations of Mechanical Artists

When I came across this article by Nick Cave on whether AI will ever be able to write a great song, I was ready to refute anything he had to say. I have so frequently read about how machines will never measure to humans talent for the arts, and I imagined that he was going to explain why machines will never measure up to the human spirit.

But then I read this:

“I don’t feel that when we listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit it is only the song that we are listening to. It feels to me, that what we are actually listening to is a withdrawn and alienated young man’s journey out of the small American town of Aberdeen – a young man who by any measure was a walking bundle of dysfunction and human limitation – a young man who had the temerity to howl his particular pain into a microphone and in doing so, by way of the heavens, reach into the hearts of a generation.”

Nick Cave

And that, for the first time, made me think. An AI will be able to copy and create a myriad of things. I see no limit as to what an AI could possibly do. But it is very unlikely that a robot will experience first hand the suffering that comes from experiences that are exclusively human. I am sure an AI can have tremendous empathy, but the art that comes from empathy is not the art that comes from experience.

That’s not to say that a robot won’t be able to experience deep emotions, but those will be of an entirely different nature.

So I agree with Nick that the motivation behind art can’t be copied. However, I’m also certain that there is just as much formula in songwriting today as there is true emotion, and robots will create, and have us believe their creations are real.

Just like humans do.

January 27, 2019


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