A.I.V.A, Human Composers and the future of personalized music - Part 1

August 31, 2018

I suppose it's about time human composers start joining the ranks of other professions to feel the pinch of competition not just from fellow humans or other organic lifeforms, but by lines of code i.e Artificial Intelligence in the form of "A.I.V.A".

To those unfamiliar, A.I.V.A stands for Artificial Intelligence Virtual Artist. A virtual composer created by the Luxembourg based company in February 2016 with the mission statement as follows:


"To establish A.I.V.A as one of the greatest composers in history, and fuel the world with personalized music"


According to the company, A.I.V.A has already composed for a variety of different projects ranging from video game soundtracks, promotional videos and even has its own album...for sale! And what's even more exciting or outrageous(depending on how you look at it) is that she(A.I.V.A) is registered to an author's right society(SACEM). This is quite similar to the 1999 film "Bicentennial Man", where the robot Andrew(played by Robin Williams) has a bank account to deposit his money made from selling his handiwork creations.


For the professionals who have been, about to be and potentially will be replaced by machines. I'm sure most composers, or at least those who are aware enough have started to have a measure of concern about the future and sustainability of their careers. I think it's healthy to have this kind of thought regardless of the possibility, so as to place ourselves on the edge and keep us competitive and adaptable. Then there's the real question: Will we be replaced by machines eventually?

I'd say YES and NO. Here's my take on why.


Let's start with the YES. If there's one thing that history is never wrong, is that nothing ever stays the same - DUH...right? In the 1970s, a piece of orchestral music would need to have a room of 100 musicians assembled to be able to bring the score to life. Nowadays, anyone could start and end their compositions with the click of the mouse without having any other human interaction. We've completely wiped out the necessity for live musicians in a generation! These days, having live musicians is more luxury than anything else.


I'm sure back in the 60s-70s, very few composers could ever fathom a world where composers are experiencing as the norm in 2018 - With samples, plug ins and super computers etc. So how is it different for us to imagine that 30-40 years in the future it'll be possible for music to be produced without any of human involvement?


So I think it's just better to assume that your job WILL be obsolete in the near future than not. Whether it be completely or partially, just assume that it wont exist soon enough and always prepare for the worst. Always seek to reinvent yourself in every way possible.


Let's take a listen at what A.I.V.A is able to do



As a 1 1/2 year old composer at the time of this video, I think she's done a pretty darn good job. For most human composers, or me at least, it'd take about twice the experience to produce something at this level. So from a learning efficiency point of view, A.I.V.A beats us to the game(or me at least!). Of course, this is not even close to the kinds of compositions produced by well respected veteran composers of our day. But imagine what she could do with more sophisticated and compounded deep learning?


My conservative estimate says that in about 5-10 years, A.I.V.A or the likes of her will be able to compose at a level that 50-60% of composers are capable of. Which means, most basic to moderate level composition work such as...basic library, corporate music and moderately sophisticated loopable game soundtracks could be taken over easily by machines, thereby possibly rendering a good half of composers out of work.


A.I.V.A's abilities may still seem fairly limited and many composers might brush its takeover as an impossibility. But think about this, we humans operate on a very narrow linear time scale. We only have 24 hours a day, and our abilities to multitask is not very impressive next to a machine. Our optimal focus only last for a very limited amount of time, and our experiences accumulate at a very slow and gradual rate. Machines on the other hand don't rest, and its learning curve if fed on a steady rate can be compounded way beyond ours.


The specter of a bleak future for us hardworking human composers is very much a reality yet to be realized. But it's not all gloom and doom as we'll find out next when I discuss about the NO in separate article.

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