Competition with the (Music)Machine (2)

Competition with the (Music) Machine (2)


We can now begin to think about what exactly the competition with the AIs that is now slowly becoming a reality might look like. One might think that for the first time in human history there is competition with machines that we have created, but is this really the case?

In fact, humans have long had machines that can do things better than we can. This process began with simple tools: an ax is far better at splitting a piece of wood than any human hand, a hammer far better at hitting a nail. With industrialization, the efficiency of these tools increased immeasurably. A tractor with a plow can work a field much faster and more efficiently than humans. The moment tractors came along, competition arose: farmers who owned tractors could cultivate their fields more efficiently and with less labor than farmers without tractors. At some point there were no more farmers without tractors.

Many more such machines are used on a modern farm, where efficiency and speed are key. For a hobby gardener, on the other hand, the use of these machines would not be worthwhile, because she sees gardening as enjoyment and relaxation. So she consciously indulges in „inefficiency“ because the widespread use of noisy and expensive machines in her garden would spoil exactly what she is actually looking for, namely rest and relaxation. Apart from the fact that there would be no economic reason for her to outperform a competitor here. There are many similar examples: here industrial and capitalistically motivated greatest possible efficiency by means of machine power, there deceleration and the conscious renunciation of such methods when it comes to human leisure and self-realization.

The situation is similar with means of transport: a bicycle is already significantly faster than a running person, while trains, cars and airplanes are many times faster. So did walking and running die out? Not at all, because here, too, people are not looking for maximum efficiency, but for experience. Those who hike up a mountain usually don’t want to get to the top as quickly as possible, but rather enjoy the view, pause, think and get some fresh air. For the impatient there are mountain railways. So here we see how machine use and human needs coexist without direct competition: when it comes to efficiency, speed or overcoming huge distances, people use means of transport, otherwise they continue to be deliberately “slow” without being frustrated every day when the tram overtakes them.

The use of computers for mostly “boring” tasks is by no means new either. For many decades, we have all used spreadsheets and various utilities on our home computers to make tedious tasks easier for us. When pocket calculators were introduced in school lessons (the first more complex pocket calculators were the direct precursors of today’s PCs), many educators feared the decline of mathematic ability and a gigantic stultification of the younger generation. In fact, today’s math lessons have become much more complex and the calculators that are now part of every mobile phone are used for complex calculations that would not have been possible before. And every library is very happy that they don’t have to manage mountains of index cards anymore but are using digitized libraries.

So when it comes to pure performance, we are surrounded by objects, machines and of course computers that have been doing things much better and faster than we can for many decades. We are not frustrated because we define our own categories in which we compete. In other words: we “cheat” a bit.

For example, when it comes to who is the fastest 1000m, one could think of many things that would be faster than even the fastest runner. A horse, for example, or a cyclist, or a car driver. We solve this frustrating problem by strictly separating the races by our own rules. The Olympic 1000m race has strict rules: Usain Bolt does not have to compete against Eddy Merckx, both run their own race against selectively selected competitors in their own „category“.

It could be similar with the emergence of AIs in artistic professions. Because these are – just like in sports – in a fundamentally competitive situation. In order to be able to survive with artistic work, one always has to compete with others who are doing the same thing and are either just as good or even better. We have to admit that this influences our artistic work. A Michelangelo has not only become so ingenious because he was simply born that way, he also worked through a not inconsiderable amount of competition from other artists of his time, who could have snatched the commission for the Sistine Chapel from him at any time. So he had to do something special and always be up to date.

Now we have AIs that can also do „special things“ in the field of art, and this is new competition that we weren’t used to before. But that doesn’t mean that we will deal with this competition differently than with the many similar competitions of the past. We will not throw in the towel and leave the field to the AIs, quite the opposite. Our fundamental competitive spirit will endure.

So, future composition contests could contain multiple categories, for example “AI compositions” (without human involvement), “AI-assisted compositions” and “non-AI-assisted compositions”.

Just as there are already algorithms that can recognize text generated by ChatGPT, there will also be algorithms that will search scores for computer assistance. And just as there is doping and all kinds of other cheating in sport, there will also be cheating in these competitions, but they will be punished and outlawed.

The pure AI compositions will also be in human competition, because behind the AIs are programmers and companies who are in competition with each other. And people, like hobby gardeners, will continue to want to compose without AI assistance, simply because they enjoy it and find satisfaction in it.

The field of compositional activity will expand, there will simply be new competition that is no longer perceived as direct human competition, but as a separate field with its own rules.

All of this will not happen without dramatic societal changes. Just as cars, for example, have changed our cities dramatically, and not necessarily for the better, so the use of AIs will change our relationship to creative work. If amateurs are also able to create their own personalized ambient music for their home with just a few clicks, or if the uninspired TV editors believe that a little bit of average AI music can replace human compositional power, not only could the basic appreciation for composition decrease, fewer people will attempt to sing or play an instrument themselves, which in turn will result in a decline in general musical education.

None of this can be precisely predicted, but I would be very surprised if the human urge to see oneself exclusively in competition with oneself did not continue to exist.

Moritz Eggert


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