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Unlocking some myths about artificial intelligence and musicians becoming robots

Over the past months many discussions have been stirred by a number of media outlets, reporting on major breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. For example, such as its capability to understand emotions and feelings. To a certain group of music makers this represents the onset of Skynet, the machines which took control in Terminator - unsurprisingly then, much resistance can be felt from these individuals.

But what's the real deal about these discussions on AI making music makers useless? And why does it cause such a strong emotional reaction from some?

Understanding the digital waves in music recording software

First of all, a clarification on how far we have come in music software today is necessary to clear some blurred lines.

It is essential to understand that already the first digital wave in music brought about digital music technology, like synths and DAW's, that were a major game changer. These saw the rise of sound synthesis and sampling which made entirely new forms of expressiveness possible. Whereas, the foundation for electronic dance music was laid by sequencers in combination with large databases of looping clips - a multifaceted artistic and cultural revolution followed.

Now, we've already entered the second wave which is washing up intelligent algorithms for processing audio and MIDI. It is no surprise then that AI's can already help control the finishing mastering process of music tracks, as assistant tools, or even fully automated. Developments like this will continue, and only a few years from now we will be used to incredible music making automatons controlling most complex harmonic figures, flawlessly imitating the greatest artists.

We have been utilizing digital production tools for decades, and will continue to do so. More complicated and intelligent code will emerge, however computers will rather not generate music all by themselves. That is because machines lack a general understanding of feeling and emotion, which are anchored deeply in music. In other words, there will always be human beings behind the actual output controlled by an AI.

The paradox is that contrary to statements made in the media on artificial intelligence being a threat to humanity, it is not only AI changing the music industry. Social changes are equally responsible for it in large part, that's an argument this article by Fast Company makes.

Will AI render human music makers as useless? As Andrew Watts, a composer and doctoral fellow at Stanford answered on Quora, "The likelihood is extremely low". It won't stop strong emotional reactions in those who cling to their egos, having trotted down the same paths for decades. Making music always evolved, and so it does today.

An editorial on this topic was originally published on Medium.

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