Robots: the Newest Threat to Brooklyn’s Creative Class

This is one way a robot gets creative.
  • This is one way a robot gets creative.

Robots are ruining things for everyone. Not content to take over the somewhat boring and manually tedious jobs that humans used to do, like vacuuming (what’s up, Roomba!), robots are now being programmed to do things like song-writing that were once thought to be solely the province of the human mind. The future is now, I guess.

The Wall Street Journal reports that although society used to think that “computers can’t parse nuance, the thinking goes, or summon the imaginative powers that are required of writers, artists, technological innovators and policy-makers” we were all just fooling ourselves. We’re not that special. Duh. Computers are always going to be better than us until we just give in and submit to them as our overlords.

Until the aliens come. Then we will be grateful for our computer overlords because we wouldn’t stand a chance without them. I’ve seen “Mars Attacks.” I know how this story goes.

Anyway, the WSJ breaks it down for us. Basically, what we think of as “creativity” isn’t as spontaneous and isn’t as much a product of inspiration—whatever that means—as we like to think it is. “Creativity” can actually be broken down into not-very-creative-sounding algorithms. Algorithms are the basis behind computer-programming and just as a computer can be programmed to solve a mathematical problem, it turns out that a computer can be programmed to solve a musical problem. I will just say that this actually makes perfect sense to me because, anecdotally, every talented musician that I know also has a real and almost intuitive aptitude for math. So, there’s that!

The WSJ gives the example of Ben Novak, a musician from New Zealand, who, in 2004, uploaded a song he wrote “to a website that claimed to have an algorithm capable of finding hits.”

What happened next? Only the stuff dreams are made of, THAT’S ALL!

“The algorithm gave Mr. Novak’s song a rare and lofty score, putting it on par with classics such as ‘Take it Easy’ by the Eagles and Steppenwolf’s ‘Born to Be Wild,'” which then culminated in the single, “Turn Your Car Around” (yes, that’s the real track title!) “eventually land[ing] near the tops of the European charts.”

Well, then! Look out, musicians who write your own stuff and don’t use computer programs! Your days are numbered. And you can just forget about landing near the tops of European charts. It’s not going to happen!

Not convinced of the revolution yet? The same algorithm that helped Mr. Novak put New Zealand music on the map (the European map) also predicted the success of “the band Maroon 5 before [it was a] major artist.”

I guess I’d be more worried if the Wall Street Journal—who I’ve ALWAYS looked to when questioning my creative relevance—didn’t reassure me that all hope is not lost when it comes to humanity’s claim to artistic brilliance. The Journal writes “distinct and exceptional talents—Nirvana, the Coen Brothers, Jonathan Franzen—will be able to defend our claims to creative superiority.”

I’ve always known Jonathan Franzen would be our savior.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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