Technology’s Ever-Evolving Dance with Human Creativity

By James Hannigan

The confluence of music and technology is nothing new; even standard orchestral instruments are historical artefacts of technological innovation.  As a composer who has weathered a few minor paradigm shifts, I find myself anxious about the big one lying ahead: this time around, I sense more may be at stake than only the livelihoods of artists.

Early in my career, I branched into relatively uncharted musical territory: devising interactive music systems for video games after the introduction of digital audio and streaming.  This was a time devoid of ground rules and textbooks, with little in the way of formalised terminology or any theoretical foundation, and it felt as though I was making things up as I went along. 

Today, tools of this kind have become so familiar that their origins as inventions are long forgotten. Off-the-shelf solutions are plentiful and educational courses abound, but I can remember when simply grasping the principles of non-linear music posed challenges for composers, particularly those rooted in the classical tradition or linear media.

One project from over twenty years ago, the BAFTA-nominated Republic: The Revolution, sticks in my mind, having afforded me considerable free rein to explore my ideas.  In retrospect, this is perhaps unsurprising, as the game’s designer would later go on to co-found renowned Google-owned AI lab, DeepMind

The apprehension I felt all those years ago, I suspect, isn’t unlike that experienced by many during the introduction of desktop music technology in the 1980s and 1990s. Initially daunting, sequencers, synthesisers, and hard disk recorders quickly became mainstream, and have since been lauded for the role they’ve played in democratising music production, contributing to the massive expansion of the music industry and kickstarting many careers in the process.

Such technological change clearly signifies a victory for tech-savvy musicians and personal expression in general, but brings devastation for some: ‘Pen and paper’ composers and orchestrators – once dominant in film and television – were among those hit by the advent of MIDI and computer-based production, and their numbers have dwindled dramatically since the 1980s. 

Unsurprisingly, this change was met with little public outcry at the time, not unlike the subdued reaction to the decline of professional photography after the adoption of digital cameras and smartphones.  Indeed, such advances appear to have been largely welcomed, viewed as having created opportunities for millions to pursue creative endeavours previously thought of as wildly inaccessible.  

Creative destruction – the process by which a technological shift opens more doors than it closes – inevitably produces winners and losers, and this is a cycle as old as innovation itself.  

Will AI music come to represent a paradigm shift too far for composers?  Are we looking at mere creative destruction this time around, or something more akin to complete annihilation?

The simple answer is: no one knows. But to get an inkling of what may lie ahead, it may be useful to look at how composers are perceived, historically and in the modern day.

Despite widespread and persistent technologisation, the public’s perception of the composer—romantically depicted in Western popular culture and by popular classical music outlets—remains that of a stern, wild-haired maestro seated at a grand piano, with manuscript paper and quill firmly in hand.

This popular perception of the composer is revealing, if antiquated: it highlights the significance of a composer’s persona and intrinsic motivation attached to their musical works. The composer is viewed as the primary architect of music; the mind behind the musical blueprints, so to speak, yet rarely the performer of it.  

Towards the start of my career, the title of ‘composer’ was laden with such gravitas that I felt unable to present myself as one, and almost a decade passed—with numerous projects then under my belt—before I finally felt able to.  I had grown up believing that this particular job title—much like “writer”—had to be bestowed upon me by society, or some musical institution or another, before I could rightfully own it.  Many of my contemporaries felt similarly, especially those taking relatively unconventional routes into music.  

For a myriad of complicated reasons beyond the scope of this post, those days are well and truly gone; today, for better or for worse, all one needs to do to become become a composer is to self-describe as one, acquire the rudimentary tools of music production and declare one’s intent to write music.

In principle, I’ve always favoured a can-do culture and notion of a meritocracy, and consequently loathe gatekeeping in music—particularly as I myself have been the victim of this in the distant past.  Yet in the face of AI, even I find myself wondering where, in future, we will look to set the boundary in determining who is and who isn’t a ‘real’ composer, musician, or—more broadly—an artist.

Is such a determination even possible, or desirable?

With the advent of AI Music, are we to begin considering individuals as composers and musicians merely because they are able to craft effective text prompts for generative music engines?  

This notion, unlikely as it sounds today, is already being embraced by some who unhesitatingly equate their roles to those of existing composers and artists.   (UPDATE: Since writing this post in 2023, the notion has already moved from being unlikely to very likely, with the emergence of programs such as Suno and Udio).

Similarly, there are prompt engineers in the realm of the visual arts marketing themselves as the peers of seasoned professionals, with little or no regard for the enormous dedication and skill such artists have cultivated over many years.  

Is this really what society as a whole envisions for its artists?

TWO-TIER MUSIC

During the early stages of the AI revolution, I can quite imagine two distinct types of artist learning to coexist: the traditional type, unaided by AI, and the prompt-engineer or ‘editor’ type. The potentially distinct niche of AI music will, I imagine, overlap with other genres and forms—for example, in areas where traditional artists seek to integrate AI into their work.

The genre of EDM, for example, exemplifies a coexistence with classical music, each having its own ecosystem and audience. This to me highlights the amazing diversity and adaptability of artists within the music industry, where many EDM producers—many of whom might never have felt the urge to pick up an acoustic instrument, touch a piano, or put pen to paper—can thrive from behind their workstations. Evidence, if any were needed, that neither genre is mutually exclusive or inherently competitive.  It’s conceivable, therefore, that AI Music will—initially, at least—emerge as a new genre or ‘musical technique’ of some kind, carving out a niche without posing a threat to human creators in the short term.

How long these niches will continue to exist independently, however, without encroaching on—or even annihilating—one another is anybody’s guess.

Differentiating the various potential niches for AI deployment in music could, I believe, hinge on understanding their primary musical objectives. For example: not all music seeks to provide deep insights into the human condition; sometimes, simply being fun, relaxing, exciting, danceable, or merely interesting will suffice. This variance leads me to be fairly optimistic about the coexistence of AI-generated and human-created music in the early days of AI, albeit with some overlap and blurring of boundaries here and there.

In the long term, however, if intensely personal, human-centric music—as many of us conceive of it today—is to retain its value, I feel it will be necessary for it to continue being written and performed by actual human beings, in ways transcending any mere technical exercise—for reasons I will outline later.

Many—admittedly, not all—technologists appear not to share this viewpoint, preferring instead to see the role of prompt engineer as sufficient for the generation of meaningful music.  

The cynic in me questions the depth of this belief, however: Is it genuinely held or merely a superficial claim?  A token gesture to rationalise and morally sanction the invention of AI music tools by overstating the true extent to which humans will actually be involved in the creative process? 

AI AND HUMAN MUSIC: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

In the face of already dwindling human involvement in music making—from automated music production tools to the increasingly infrequent use of live musicians—I find myself pondering the question: just how much human involvement, and what type, is enough to authentically capture the personal experience of human beings? 

A first step in answering that may be to look at the commonalities of human and AI-made music—because some clearly do exist—and then to consider a few of the defining differences between them.

Much of the music composed in any era, ours included, can be somewhat derivative, fitting established stylistic frameworks; not every piece of music has to break new ground to have value, that much is obvious.  There are benefits to adopting existing musical languages, as these enable audiences to extract and perceive meaning quickly and easily, just as is the case with spoken language.

It’s feasible, too, to suggest that the creative process within the human mind shares some similarities with an AI’s, involving the assimilating and recombining of musical elements in novel ways. And, I dare say, someday it will become impossible to distinguish at face value between isolated artefacts of creativity as being uniquely human or AI.

A key difference remains though, regarding the origin and purpose of human music: it is created by and for sentient beings.  And this relationship—this perception—has enormous intrinsic value.

Given this value, what is the bare minimum level of emotional investment and musicianship that audiences will tolerate before they lose interest in music altogether, or consider it to be either soulless or valueless?  

Does the mere belief that a human being has participated in the music creation process, at some point or another, satisfy listeners, or can the machines get away with merely implying this?  Given that AI will soon—if it hasn’t already—master the art of creating such an illusion, should we be content to allow ourselves to be fooled in this way? Or should look instead for AI to deliver novel, less human-centric forms of musical expression?

At this stage, I’m put in mind of a similar scenario in computer animation, known as the uncanny valley, where increased attempts to mimic human likeness often result in a peculiar eeriness—suggesting that technology might be better put to use carrying out tasks highlighting its uniqueness. This may well explain why animated and live-action films still occupy non-competing niches today, and I’m hopeful that a similar scenario can emerge in respect to AI-generated and human-made music.

Setting aside the similarities between humans and AI for a moment, an ethical question arises here: should AI be used to emulate human beings (let alone whether it can) and does it matter how it achieves this? Concerns already exist regarding how generative engines are trained and the copyright in data they utilise in this process, and I am certain greater controversy awaits on this front. Training on copyrighted music is one thing – problematic in itself – but it becomes even more contentious when the resulting output is, in turn, copyrighted and commercially exploited. It is one thing for a machine to emulate a human being, but quite another to profit from this financially. I have no doubt that this issue will become critical in the coming years as the world navigates the legal implications of generative AI.

WHY HAVE COMPOSERS?

So ingrained is the archetype of the Western composer—who is, at the very least, a sentient being, and at most, a tortured and deified genius—that we continue to recount their stories, often over centuries, endlessly examining the inspiration behind their works. 

Audiences for classical music remain fascinated by Mozart’s lack of recognition during his short, tumultuous life, and continue to reflect on Shostakovich’s artistic constraints within the Soviet Union.  How many of us, for example, think of Beethoven’s music without contemplating the profound impact of his deafness? 

Artists’ stories and their emotional and intellectual responses to their circumstances appear integral to our appreciation of them, to the extent that it can become difficult—and perhaps even undesirable—to separate artists from their art. We tend to romanticise such figures, requiring knowledge of their inner lives in order to process their creations, often looking towards experts and reviewers to validate, contextualise and curate their works for us.  How else, I wonder, can we navigate the immense sea of human creativity, discerning what merits our attention?

This principle isn’t confined to classical music. In pop music, too, a song isn’t created in a vacuum; it is often experienced through the lens of an artist’s life or within the complexity of a broader cultural movement. In this way, pop music has always been more than about the technicalities of songwriting and music production; as such, it can’t easily be modelled or taught.

The structure and duration of songs have stayed fairly consistent for sixty years or more—initially determined by the length of a 45 RPM single—and countless songs share similar motifs, chord progressions and production techniques, yet other, often mysterious, factors appear to contribute to their ongoing appeal and cultural resonance. It would appear that there is no reliable algorithm for cool.

This perspective, I believe, is essential to our understanding and appreciation of music; part of the very way we perceive and ascribe value to it.

I’d love to believe that we evaluate each piece of music we encounter on its own merits, as that would be favourable to creators, but I rather doubt many of us do, or even have the patience to try.  

More often than not, an artist’s work is ignored by the public until validated and endorsed by trusted institutions, or until the artist’s name becomes a brand in itself. And this, invariably, is where business and capitalism come into play. 

Such a need for external validation may, I imagine, explain why it is so hard for new artists—even very talented ones—to make headway when starting out.  And it surely goes somewhere towards explaining why many never enter the public imagination at all.  One doesn’t have to work in music for very long to see great talent go unnoticed.

Society relies on hierarchies to provide goals and aspirations to its citizens, offering recognition for hard work and talent, along with the sense of progress up the ladder of life. But these hierarchies, however, appear to me to be rather delicate, and are susceptible to corruption— as a result of forces such as favouritism, classism, and nepotism. These imperatives, it would seem, are immutable facets of human life.

PUBLIC INDIFFERENCE

Without human innovation or the impulse to create, there would be no concept of music, nor would there be anything for AI to model or emulate.  Shouldn’t we, therefore, pause and reconsider before we elect to hand over control of this precious human invention to legions of prompt engineers and machines?  

In the long term, much as I worry for young artists, I don’t believe that the adoption of AI music tools can be prevented, nor do I think it should be.  My concerns aren’t particularly personal, either, nor do they lie merely with AI’s soon-to-be very impressive capabilities.

What worries me more is the question of whether audiences will, over the long term, become oblivious to—or, worse still, indifferent to—the very idea of differentiating between human and AI-generated work at all.  Similarly, with the adoption of ChatGPT, we’ve already seen the readiness with which some of us are willing to anthropomorphise AI.

Will the fundamental principle of craftmanship and human participation, existing for millennia, continue to be valued in the face of the influx of works AI will inevitably bring into being?

It requires little imagination to foresee a time—perhaps within a generation or two—where such an alteration has taken place. Just as the young today have little or no recollection of the pre-internet era, blissfully unaware of what may have been lost to it, future generations will be unable to remember a time before the advent of generative AI.

Even today, some of the human-made music we encounter—especially in relatively throwaway YouTube videos or film trailers, for example—can feel impersonal and arbitrary in nature, even resembling AI-generated work in its rootlessness.  Perhaps this indicates growing public apathy towards artistic authenticity in general—a trend emerging long before AI hit the scene.  

Further steps towards the use of AI Music in domains such as YouTube are increasingly likely due to this detachment and dehumanisation, especially if it provides creators with an endless source of cheap—maybe even free—music.

This devaluing effect on music through the use of AI may be further aided by the archetype of the composer: a remote, shadowy, and enigmatic figure—implied to exist, but rarely observed or directly interacted with. This distancing, I expect, will be increased further still by the ongoing technologisation and commodification of music in general.

Ways of curating and distributing music for public consumption in the era of the internet continue to evolve all around us. Gone are the days when only a few major entities, such as the church, academic institutions or—more recently—record companies, held the reins over such activities. Historically, this type of control has been combined with the power to determine, validate and market content itself, but this capability is increasingly falling into the hands of private individuals and businesses.

In a capitalist society, where markets largely dictate value, this effect is amplified by those with the most resources and means of promoting music—further relegating its intrinsic value to a secondary role.  In an overcrowded space, more and more needs to be spent in order to gain attention.

Much of the music we encounter daily is as a result of aggressive marketing campaigns or is heard in association with a myriad of marketable entities, including influencers, films, TV shows, video games—and even the cynically manufactured personas of artists themselves.  To have any chance of being heard or seen, both music and artist often have to piggyback on these platforms, representing yet another shift away from the idea that artistic merit alone is the primary pathway to success.  When marketing reaches into domains that have historically been associated with art for art’s sake, the resulting ‘pay to play’ environment sounds to me a lot like a corrupt hierarchy—but one that doesn’t appear to be on the radar for many.

A mild form of this corruption can be exemplified in the often-superficial selection process for opera singers or classical musicians by certain labels and trusted institutions, where promotion becomes partly based on physical appearance or outward presentation, often at the expense of talent. It seems that very little is sacred today—not even art music—when business considerations come into play.

Highlighting this isn’t in any way intended to imply that all heavily marketed music lacks quality; far from it, but to think of the excessively promoted as representing the zenith of human creativity, or even a decent cross-section of it, is quite a stretch.

Those with the biggest financial backing tend to dominate the music industry, yet the burgeoning democratisation of marketing methods themselves—ironically, in part thanks to the emergence of AI tools enhancing the capabilities of everyday people—may in theory begin to level the playing field.  

This, I’ve no doubt, will initially be seen as another victory for the individual, but in a world already overflowing with music and messages, it remains to be seen whether such changes will really be of much use in a global, AI–fuelled race for attention and engagement.

Someday, we may even see a situation where promoting music created by humans and AI is done simultaneously, with less and less distinction required between the two. Without a clear and direct connection to artists themselves—or any insight into the creative process—seeing beyond this form of manipulation may become challenging. Many of us, I expect, will simply cease to care, as making the distinction—if it isn’t advertised—will require too much effort.

WHAT COSTS NOTHING IS WORTH NOTHING?

The scarcity of recorded music once significantly determined its market value. Before the development of cheap sequencers, tape decks, and hard disk recording, access to expensive recording studios and music ensembles was extremely limited, making it challenging for the majority of musicians and composers to realise their musical ideas. Overcoming this limitation, in many cases, required great skill, talent and hard work. 

Until computers hit, the complexity of externalising and refining musical ideas might have deterred many from even trying, possibly ensuring that only the most talented and motivated—the cream, you might say—rose to prominence.  (It must be mentioned here, however, that the wealthiest and most privileged among us have always fared better).

Modern recording tools have dramatically changed the landscape, simplifying the recording and editing of music, and leading to a surge in the number of composers—a trend no doubt linked to the widespread availability of these technologies.  Such tools have lowered the barriers to entry, much in the way word processors and blogging tools have enabled more individuals to try their hand at writing.

This trend brings me to a critical issue, and one that gets to the heart of the question I’m attempting to raise in this post: Increasing technologisation may have made the music creation process easier and more accessible to many, but hasn’t it also blurred the lines between genuine talent and mere technical proficiency?

How are we to discern artistic ability and reward hard work in an era where technology such as AI may make everyone a potential artist? 

Is the very idea of even trying to ‘qualify’ an artist some kind of outdated, aristocratic folly?  I’m not so sure it is, because even in a meritocracy, the idea of rewarding the laziest among us is surely unpalatable. 

In light of the dramatic effects of technological change we’ve seen in previous decades, what will an AI–infused future actually look like for music in a world already inundated with self–recorded and self–published content?  How can we pragmatically address this new reality?

Over 100,000 tracks are uploaded to streaming platforms every day.  And this is before the widespread adoption of AI tools promising to make the creative process easier than ever.  With more music in existence than anyone can realistically listen to in a thousand lifetimes, will the adage, “what costs nothing is worth nothing” begin to apply as the cost of creative thought theoretically tends to zero?

THE HUMAN FACTOR

Traditionally, art has often been idealised as a reflection of life and the human condition.  Yet if this is to hold true in the future, how will AI take the place of artists who are motivated by this aim?  An AI, for the time being at least, lacks an inner world or any sense of purpose.  It has nothing to kick against; no motivation beyond a text prompt. Even when it acts to create, it is unaware that it is doing so. 

As technology increasingly aids music production, reducing human involvement in the process, the soul, purpose, and essence of music have already begun to fade away. The bond between human beings, which has historically defined music, is becoming less tangible, resulting in music that is aptly often described by corporations as mere content or assets, rather than as a sincere expression of emotion.

Compounding this problem—in an industrial context, at least—composers can find themselves asked to adopt the style of other successful productions or artists, guided by temp tracks or stylistic decisions made by others, further alienating them from their own ideas, inspirations and personal motivations. Composing under these circumstances can become more of a task–oriented job than any form of personal expression; a mere function of capitalism, you might say.

An assembly-line approach, which has existed for decades in some domains, can have the effect of reducing artists to cogs in a machine tasked with joining the dots laid out by others.  This not only stifles the unique potential and creativity of each person, but it also renders them ever more replaceable by an AI potentially capable of executing similarly detached tasks in future.  This homogenised, impersonal approach to composing may explain how it has become possible for multiple composers to work side-by-side on the same scores for film, tv shows and video games, too, without it becoming apparent to the listener. Within such a business model, there’s very little scope for the uniqueness of human composers to be brought to the fore, and such a scenario isn’t as far removed from the wholesale adoption of AI as many would like to believe.

The trend towards the impersonal and formulaic has already led to a noticeable decline in our collective appreciation of music, and, if there’s any accurate description of what an AI engine does, it is surely formulaic

This approach is particularly evident in contexts where music functions as background material for relatively banal everyday activities, such as walking around supermarkets, waiting on the phone, or eating in restaurants.  While such music is not devoid of value—it has long played this kind of ancillary role—it’s this type of music that is most susceptible to being supplanted by AI in the near future.

The potential handover to AI, however, is likely to creep—perhaps slowly at first—into other domains.  Not in preference for a particular style, form, or application, but reflecting a growing detachment and indifference towards music creators themselves—particularly those behind media music or in any setting where the artist is essentially invisible. 

It appears that audiences are open to substantial technological intervention in the creation of artistic works just so long as they believe, or it’s implied in some way, that a key figure is involved—at the very least, symbolically—somewhere in the creative process.  Many modern-day composers may well find themselves seated in front of computers rather than standing before musicians or performing their own music, but the knowledge they exist still retains value.  For the time being.

LEFT BRAIN, RIGHT BRAIN

For me, a crucial question arising in relation to AI music is whether we are collectively losing our ability to discern what is genuinely human in our online interactions—musical or otherwise. In his book The Master and His Emissary, psychiatrist and philosopher Ian McGilchrist extensively explores the concept of the divided brain, suggesting that the world—particularly the western world—is increasingly leaning towards left-brain dominance. He posits that the left hemisphere is largely reductive in its outlook, perceiving the world in terms of discrete parts and certainties, whereas the right hemisphere is more questioning and views the world more holistically, recognising beauty and interconnectedness. In this sense, perhaps the left brain considers a piece of music to qualify as such simply because it superficially matches the description of music, whereas the right brain questions its authenticity. The right brain, I’d wager, cares considerably more about how, why, and where music was created, as well as what it signifies in a broader context. According to McGilchrist’s ideas, the right brain is attuned to the nuances and deeper meanings that go beyond surface appearances, perceiving the emotional depth inherent in artistic creation.

I wonder, then, if this hemispheric tension, and the prevailing tendency towards left-brain thinking, is leading us to find generative AI acceptable while also prone to being seduced by the illusion of personhood it attempts to fabricate. That we can so easily be fooled by an AI perhaps says less about the capabilities of the AI than it does about our own diminishing ability to understand one another as human beings.

In the case of AI music, does this explain why AI-generated music can indeed superficially appear to be genuine, while—for many of us, at least—our right brains protest and recognise that it clearly isn’t, given the knowledge we possess? I believe this distinction is important. Surely, many of us would be horrified by the notion that we can be lulled into perceiving music as ‘heartfelt’ when the creator of this music has no heart and the lights aren’t even on in its figurative head?

PARALLELS WITH OTHER TECHNOLOGICAL REVOLUTIONS

Many composers lament the overuse of sample libraries over live musicians in situations where the real thing is highly preferable, but as with other forms of creative destruction, the public at large appears to have—over a generation or two—come to terms with this particular change: most convenient for those holding the purse strings, as it saves money on production costs by doing away with the need for musicians.

Many under forty, having grown up exposed to a great deal of pristine MIDI and sample-based music—in kids TV in particular—may even enjoy its clinically precise sound, perhaps even favouring it over a relatively messy, human performance.  Just a few decades ago, this would have been pretty unimaginable.

Predictably, this has been met with little public consternation—which may, I fear, serve as an indicator of how some audiences will eventually react to the prospect of doing away with composers, too.

In the era of AI, I wonder, what can we become accustomed to that seems almost unimaginable to us today? Music without the need for human beings altogether? It’s not inconceivable, in some contexts.

IN CONCLUSION

My perspective on the long-term impact of AI on human artists tends to lean towards pessimism. I do believe, however, that the direction eventually taken will be determined by society at large —by composers, musicians, publishers, and audiences.  Right now, I feel it’s unlikely that any global change will be imposed ‘from above’ by corporations or industry heavyweights solely with an interest in promoting AI to save money or reduce budgets.  Instead, I believe it will likely be a societal choice—or perhaps even the result of sheer indifference.

Even contemplating the use of AI to create music while we still have thinking and feeling human beings around us to do this strikes me as self–defeating for humanity, and needlessly destructive.  What, exactly, is the ultimate purpose of this technology, and who, in the end, is set to benefit from adopting it?

Beyond YouTube videos or similar applications, where generative AI is already being put to use, I can quite imagine more documentary makers, game developers and music producers beginning to adopt AI music technology as it evolves.  Where things go from there, and what kind of public reaction there will be to this development, I have no idea. 

The issue of AI Music, I imagine, only becomes a problem if it is perceived to be one by a significant proportion of the population.  If audiences cease to care about the origins of music, then so will the markets who serve them.   If, however, audiences take the lead—finding themselves concerned enough about human involvement in music to actively preserve it—then the market will surely be incentivised to follow them.

My concern regarding the adoption of AI extends to composers, too, who may feel unduly pressured to adopt AI tools to stay abreast of technological advances, in order to remain competitive or to increase productivity—potentially leading to a self–defeating race to the bottom. 

Furthermore, if AI tools enable virtually anyone to create music, might this not attract mercenary types into music?  Those with cynical, business–based motives, devoid of any genuine interest in personal expression?  If such people are able to thrive—with little or no genuine interest in music at all—we will only have ourselves to blame.  We will get what we deserve.

Worst case for artists in future: resisting AI may well prove futile.  Best case: resistance and regulation may be worthwhile—but may only be achievable through collective action, perhaps not dissimilar to the type taken recently by actors and scriptwriters within the film and television industries, delineating human and AI made music, while setting out— and protecting—the rights of human artists.

At this point, however, observing how overcrowded and cutthroat the composing industry can be, and with the profession lacking much the way of union support, I’m doubtful any such unity will emerge, although I sincerely hope to be proven wrong.

Even if future careers in music are at risk of being severely affected by the disruption AI will bring, this, of course, doesn’t spell the end of music as we know it, nor does it mean that we, as individuals within our local communities, cannot continue to celebrate what we cherish.  But we may need to act swiftly to solidify the valuable connection between human artist and audience, or risk permanently losing the essence of such music to future generations.

Simply put, if we, as a society, truly value human-made music, we may need to show more interest in the human beings around us who live and breathe it.  If we fail to do this, then the gradual removal of humans from the creative process will, I fear, become ever more likely—as is already the case in many commercial contexts.

Instead of choosing only to celebrate the globally famous, who are relentlessly marketed at us from every conceivable direction, perhaps we should learn again to show interest in the artists belonging to our local communities, seeking meaning in realms unreachable by AI and mass marketing. These could, for example, include more frequent live recording sessions, various forms of performance art, or concerts – any and all areas where the human aspect is most evident and impactful.

In the short term, I anticipate some resistance to the adoption of AI music within many quarters of the music and media industries, if only because paradigm shifts are challenging at the best of times—including for those who commission work and may ultimately hope to save money by adopting AI.

Much activity and collaboration takes place in the context of existing, carefully nurtured creative or business partnerships, and I tend to believe that our innate desire for human interaction in the course of our daily lives will continue to exist for a good while yet—even in the face of AI’s formidable capabilities. 

Corporations, publishers, and labels may, I hope, wish to continue forming relationships with talented human artists, if only for moral reasons or because removing them from the equation altogether may have unwelcome consequences or them in the short term, perhaps even devaluing music as a valuable asset.  I doubt anyone working—or hoping to work—in music wishes to see that happen.

Looking far ahead, however, to the potential of AI in the arts – particularly if it gains some sort of inner life or sentience – surely affords its own intriguing possibilities.  The fascination with art produced by such an AI may not lie in its ability to replicate human output, but in its own ‘perspective’ on things.  I wonder if this may someday lead us away from thinking of AI as a mere imitator of human beings, towards something complementary to them; a distinct form of intelligence with its own stories to tell.  If, indeed, it has stories to tell.

The mystery of consciousness adds another dimension to this discussion. If we ultimately find ourselves unable to determine whether or not an AI is self-aware—even if it claims to be—will we be willing or able to think of its creations and interactions with us as personally motivated and authentic? 

For me, the notion of emotionally connecting with the output of an entity that is, to all intents and purposes, dead on the inside is a frightening one.  My sense of horror may well stem from the anthropocentric ethos of my generation, yet I can conceive of future generations being relatively untroubled by such philosophical concerns. Even today, it appears that some of us are comfortable anthropomorphising the likes of AI systems such as ChatGPT. 

I’m troubled by the idea that, someday, we may become apathetic to the question of whether an AI possesses any ‘spark’ of consciousness – even when or if it claims to possess it.  The hard problem of consciousness I feel will become increasingly urgent to tackle as AI advances, perhaps even determining how many of us ultimately conceptualise and interact with AI agents and AI-generated works.

In terms of outward capability alone, I take some comfort, however, in noting that the creation of robots surpassing human capabilities doesn’t appear to have lessened the value of human competition in sports, for example.  Rather, such technology has highlighted the unique aspects and qualities of each party: we continue to value human endurance, strategy, and emotional engagement, while marvelling at the dexterity, speed, and efficiency of robots.  It’s my hope that AI used for music and art may not end up as a replacement for people, but as some kind of augmentation to a diversifying spectrum of artistic expression.  

As we enter the terrifying—yet oddly exciting—world of AI, perhaps our challenge as artists may become one of harmonising technology with the spirit and essence we cherish in human activity and interaction.  A certain degree of inevitability seems to exist over AI’s adoption, but I believe society retains control over how much and in what ways.  

Finding a balance that ensures all forms of art maintain their profound connection with our collective human experience will, I think, be necessary if our lives are to be enriched, rather than eclipsed, by artificial intelligence. – JH

Copyright James Hannigan,2023

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