What's the Value of a Song When Artificial Intelligence is Everywhere?

November 1, 2018

Appeared in Music Business Worldwide

 

In a world where exponentially advancing technology is created to solve various human basic needs, could the next frontier be the need for creative ideas? What’s the value of a computer-generated idea? But why buy an idea from a machine?

 

It’s a bizarre question at first glance. It reads like absurdist poetry. Yet we hold that our ideas are discrete entities with definable intrinsic value. Is it possible a machine could generate such a thing?

 

As AI slowly seeps into business, culture, everywhere, we are being forced to answer this question. If the results of the data ingesting, pattern recognizing, and predictions have some validity, they may qualify as ideas worthy of the same consideration as human-created ideas. After all, determining worthiness or value is a deeply human-inflected system, and as is AI. Without human input, machine learning cannot happen. The machine is merely the surface layer of the ideation process. We are buying the distillation of human experience and perspective, processed on a scale unheard of before our time, using methods that feel alien and opaque--for now.

 

Accepting this possible answer--yes, I’ll buy a machine’s idea--somehow upends some of our notions of creativity. They shake their very core. The machine is not a person, not conscious, has no awareness or context. It has nothing to say. It has merely generated something. We are used to considering human artists as the driving force behind value. In the traditional definitions of artistic merit, the value of an object, utterance, or performance depends on the artist’s unique abilities and perspective.

 

A machine’s idea is perceived as less valuable. After all, it didn’t really put anything into its creation.

 

Or did it? Our relationship with machines has been relatively one directional.  We’ve created technology to solve basic problems and only when said problems were solved, was technology paid for.  AI too is suited for this but, assistive creative AI, particularly in music and other artforms, introduces a new paradigm because the problems it attempts to solve is our limited creative nature itself. Many are conflicted, sometimes even offended by the demand pay for such technology, as the transaction would be an admission of defeat.

 

We are being introduced a new paradigm, a new relationship with machines. Creative AI by design is a combination of both human intuition and machine intelligence. This newly shared control principle frees us humans to imagine new creative processes introduced by the machine, not possible independently by either human or machine.    

 

We’re still struggling to understand the relationship between human and machine, just as we’re struggling to think of all humans as equals. A similar tension arose with the advent of photography. Was it really art, if an image did not have to be manually produced and could be reproduced fairly easily? It continued with film, which felt even more divorced from the “authenticity” and “aura” (to use terms critics kicked around in the early 20th century) of painting or sculpture.

 

When machines get involved in making art, it makes creativity more accessible, lowers the time between intention and execution (as limiting as it may be) and that democratization of creativity ultimately has shifted the center of commercial value. It moves from the prizing of a unique object or the restricted access to a certain live performance to the audience. This is a very natural source of value:  We love to give a number or value to objects and even more so to the people around us. We yearn to be valued, and we also yearn to value.

 

In a modern post-internet society, content value is post-creation. Machines can take an inhuman number of human hours and produce novel ideas in a very non-human way. That still doesn’t feel right to us. “You’re taking a millenium of work and giving me a random idea!” we want to counter. No matter how good that idea sounds, I may struggle to say that it is worth purchasing.

 

However, that is not where value is made now. In a world where every piece of music is equally accessible, the worth of a piece of music isn’t associated with the music itself, but its ability to attract listeners’ attention, the amount of time that people listen, share, talk about it. There are dozens of examples of mediocre artists who have large, passionate fan bases. Even if it’s a masterpiece, if they don’t share it or devote time to a track or album or video, it doesn’t have much value. It’s not about the artistic merit, the file type, or any other aspect of consumption. This dynamic is present, with or without machine learning, of course. AI is merely forcing us to reckon even more explicitly with the tension between originality and value, collaboration and consumption.

 

According to this theory, the hours put into consumption are more determinate of value compared to the endless hours put into production. I may have practiced longer but I may not be more skilled--or more able to produce something that attracts sufficient attention. Advances in tech can allow people to skip those long production hours and start creating, as these hours are not really rewarded (though they can be truly rewarding to the creator). The value of a piece of clothing or artwork is only quantifiable by the consumer, if they want to see it or take people to see it, if they want to wear it.

 

As AI becomes as normal to us as the drum machine and vocoder, as photos and film, we may change our answer. We may be happy to spend a few bucks on a machine’s idea, if it might pay our bills for a month, when developed into a hit. We have come to a new age of reckoning with machines in art. It’s a time that may completely reframe our understanding of artistry and value.

 

 

 

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