Humans Need Not Apply

With this year’s “Westworld” remake and the numerous IRobots, Terminators, and even Fembots who have been unleashed in the past decade, it’s clear that the human fear of AI is still fairly common in the 21st century. And who can blame us? Ever since the first factory worker was replaced by a robotic arm, human productivity has been no match for the advanced technology that can be created. Machines are infamously cheaper and faster than their human counterparts when it comes to manufacturing, financial calculations, and even medical and service jobs.

There are still those who argue that the implementation of machines in place of human workers simply opens up the possibility for people to pursue more creative endeavors. However, technology has already advanced to the point where machines are able to match, if not surpass, human beings in terms of creativity and artistic skill. In other words, if you are a writer, musician or even a painter, your days may be numbered.

Five years ago two former choristers, Patrick Stobbs and Ed Newton-Rex, both 29, founded Jukedeck. Jukedeck is a start up based on the premise of an AI composer. Currently this AI possesses the ability to create commercial music, perfect for say a health insurance ad or background music at a board meeting. However, according to Stobbs, “There’s no rule of physics that says computers can’t get as good as a human [artist].”

Right now this sort of technology seems to actually be useful for human musicians. Flow Machines, an AI composer similar to Jukedeck, is currently in talks with well known indie bands like Phoenix who may decide to give the technology a try in the creation of their next album. French rock musician Mathieu Peudupin said that he “could never have written a song like the one I did without it.” This symbiotic relationship between man and machine may not last forever though. The founders of Jukedeck see a future where computers will eventually be able to respond in real time to a person’s emotions, thereby tailoring the music we have access to, to match our feelings in the moment. More convenient then searching the radio or an iTunes library for your favorite song?

These automated music composers are cheaper too. Jukedeck charges large companies just $21.99 per track, significantly cheaper than the cost of a human musician. Musicians aren’t the only ones being threatened though.

For those who believe that readers will still crave the soul and style so intrinsic in popular journalism, don’t get too comfortable.

Three years ago the LA Times experienced some controversy because of a report that went out shortly after the city experienced a mild tremor. A few years earlier the LA Times had laid off a significant portion of their writers. A software bot had written the report on the tremor. Obviously, there were those who found this information disturbing.

The LA Times were not the first to employ a robot writer on their staff. In fact, writing programs such as Quill have been developed to run on PC or Linux. Kris Hammond, founder of Narrative Science, the firm that owns Quill, has been quoted saying that by 2025, 90 percent of the news read by the general public will be generated by computers.

Hammond has since backtracked on this quote. “That doesn’t mean that robots will be replacing 90 percent of all journalists, simply that the volume of published material will massively increase,” he explained. Not that this is particularly comforting to the journalists working the sports and financial beat, the topics that are being most targeted by AI. For those who believe that readers will still crave the soul and style so intrinsic in popular journalism, don’t get too comfortable. “Computers have known how to write in English for years. The reason they haven’t done so in the past is they had nothing to say, lacking access to a sufficient volume of information,” says Professor Larry Birnbaum, one of the developers of the Quill System. Looks like someone found a way to give the machines something to write about.

People have been discussing the indie film “Come Swim” primarily because of the fact that “Twilight” actress Kristen Stewart directed it, but that isn’t the most interesting detail. Key scenes in the film have been artistically manipulated using a technology called Neural Style Transfer. This technique uses neural networks to artistically redraw an image in the style of a source style image. Meaning, by showcasing an image to an algorithm, the technology can apply the qualities of said image to other images in real time. So instead of learning artistic technique, which can take years of practice even if one already possesses considerable skill, just plug in a photograph alongside an image of the desired artistic aesthetic and you will get a high quality result.

In the research paper co-written by Stewart, Adobe research engineer Bhautik J. Joshi and Starlight Studios Producer David Shapiro, it is said that, “The novelty of the technique gave a false sense of a high-quality result early on; seeing images redrawn as paintings is compelling enough that nearly any result seems passable.” However later on they elaborate by saying that, “Far from being automatic, Neural Style Transfer requires many creative iterations when trying to work towards a specific look for a shot.” The technology may be able to spit out beautiful images on command, but some manipulation is still needed.

It does beg the question though, if Neural Style Transfer can create “passable” images this early on its creation, what will it be able to produce several years from now?

“Rather than become paralyzed by fear of the overwhelming progress constantly brewing in this industry, we have the option to instead be comforted.”

Surprisingly, some in the creative industry don’t feel too threatened by these advancing technologies. “I think that most people find themselves attracted to art because of the human connection,” says Troy Keon of Color Station Music LLC. “Take out the human element and all you have is the product. You’re just looking at a dead piece of paper or a bunch of facts scrawled on paper.”

Joshi spoke to BTRtoday about whether he thought that technology was having a positive effect on the creative industry and gave a rather surprising response:

“I guess if I were to take a rather silly leap, I’d say it’s in some ways part of Jim Jarmusch personified as an algorithm–in his own words: ‘Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.’

“The second part of that quote, however, explains why it won’t completely replace humans, because computers don’t have a soul to be spoken to. ‘Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.’ If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery–celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.’ ”

Despite the paranoia obviously generated by a computer that makes music, or an AI that speaks English, a common theme found among experts on the subject has been one of hope, hope for ongoing collaboration between man and machine, composer and coder in a world where the creative industry is able to thrive and even expand because of these technological advancements. Another thought by Joshi is that “In some ways, this evolution of technology is helping finish stories that have started perhaps hundreds of years ago, allowing for the kind of expression that we’ve been grasping at but have never been able to achieve in an accessible way.” Joshi, something of a medium between the art world and the tech industry, is full of these comforting thoughts. Rather than become paralyzed by fear of the overwhelming progress constantly brewing in this industry, we have the option to instead be comforted. After all, when the machines do decide to take over, there won’t be much to be done about it will there?