composing · Uncategorized

How could creative computers affect human psychology?

I’ve been writing lately about the rise of computer songwriting/composition and how that could affect the job market for musicians. There’s another concern tied to all this, a more philosophical concern. How does the rise of creative software affect our notion of what it is to be human?

This question really transcends music and applies to all art and, really, all creative thinking (which can exist in disciplines often considered unartistic—business, science etc.)

When I bring up concerns about creative software with people, they often don’t believe it will ever be a problem. These folks are unaware computers can create art even though programs have been making music for decades, are generating visual art, designs and may even be writing fiction at some point soon.

I think we are going to have to confront the fact that much of the creative process is procedural. Creative acts can be broken down to a series of steps that can be learned and applied, much the same way that the act of building a car was broken down into steps by Henry Ford. (This point is often made in the various “how to be creative” books that have flooded the market in recent years.)

To us humans, creative acts don’t seem procedural. They seem magical. Ideas just come to us. We turn mistakes into new ideas. We blindly thrash about and hopefully stumble across artistic victories.

Nonetheless, it seems clear that as we design software architecture that’s similar to the human brain* (e.g. neural networks and the like), we are generating creativity. “Virtual” brains are getting closer to real brans.

* If you do any reading on neural networks you will doubtless stumble across someone explaining that neural networks are nowhere near as complex as real brains. That’s a fine point; nonetheless, neural networks are more like brains that the computers of 20 years ago were.

The intelligentsia is making an effort to address the damage that artificial intelligence and robots will do to the job markets of the future. But I think we also have to consider what all this means for the psychology of humans. Our literature is filled with presumptions of the uniqueness of humans, our specialness. This is particularly true in relation to the (presumed) uniquely human ability to create art. What happens if computers start to encroach on this territory? Will we even want to create art if we know that a computer can do it better than us?

I’ll note that these are odd questions for a teacher of music to ask. Shouldn’t I be encouraging people to take up music, not warning them about computer Mozarts? But these are the questions going through my head.

Mostly, I think the answers to these questions are, for the time being, unknowable. There are too many mysterious factors including the many strange forces that make up human behavior. It’s hard to know how we could react to all this. It also may be that computers never really fulfill the promises I lay out here.

We live in interesting times.


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