A brand new Beatles song

Bad news for professional songwriters. Sony’s machine learning algorithm has written a few tunes. And they’re not bad!

Lots of big talk about machine learning lately, none more so than from yours truly.

And I know that plenty of you aren’t convinced. That’s to be expected. Machine learning hasn’t crossed over into everyday life yet. It’s hard to get excited about an abstract idea, which is hard to understand, and not part of your life.

You might not be convinced machine learning is going to affect you personally. You might be sceptical that it’ll take your job… or your kids’.

My job is to try show you what’s going to happen, so you can prepare yourself. Sometimes that means getting out of the way of danger, sometimes that means positioning yourself to make some money.

Today I can’t offer you “smoking gun” evidence that machine learning is going to turn your life upside down in the next year. But I can show you a small thing which lots of people around the office found shocking, and a bit hard to believe.

Bad news for humanity

I don’t know what number of you are professional songwriters. But for those readers, I have some bad news. Sony’s machine learning algorithm has written a few tunes. And they’re not bad!

One is inspired by The Beatles, and it’s called “Daddy’s Car”. It sounds like a filler song from The White Album. It’s a plausible song, and The Beatles influence is totally apparent.

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There’s another one called Mr Shadow. It’s a bit less poppy. It’s “inspired” by American songwriters like Cole Porter and Duke Ellington.

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How do you inspire a computer? The researchers got it to listen to 13,000 pieces of music, selected a genre (e.g. Beatles, or American composers), asked it to come up with original musical patterns that matched the genres, and then stitched the patterns together. You can learn more about the process here.

What are people for?

I would’ve thought that creating original music would be the very last thing a computer would be able to do. I thought art and computation don’t even belong in the same category. But it would appear they do.

My point is this: if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t think a computer could do your job, or your kid’s job, how do you square this one?

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