Can a robot really freestyle?

Shimon is an AI capable of writing its own compositions. Could this be the rise of the robot music industry?

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New waves of musical styles and genres have always represented culture throughout history, and robot music may just become the next wave. Engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, led by Gil Weinberg, have designed the first musical robot capable of not only playing music, but creating it. His name is Shimon.

Weinberg, who is a musician, engineer, and Professor of Musical Technology, has been working on Shimon since his undergrad days. He found himself in a creative rut and decided to create a robot that could inspire him with new musical ideas. 

Meet Shimon, the Robotic Musician

Weinberg and his team developed Shimon from a simple midi interface to a robot that could compose and perform music. The goal was to create an AI that wouldn’t just follow instructions but instead, create its own unique robot music.

To do so, Shimon was trained on a vast data set of everything from progressive rock to jazz to rap. The robot then takes this knowledge of past music and uses algorithms to come up with new compositions that resonate with and surprise human listeners.

All of this work led to Shimon V1, a singing robot that actually understands the rules of music composition. It can “listen” to human performers and respond to them with its own improvisations in real time. Weinberg’s team plans to take Shimon’s performances to the next level by integrating features that truly capture human emotion and expression.

Could Robot Music Replace Human Creativity?

Up until recent advancements, applications of artificial intelligence have mostly consisted of well-defined and derivative tasks, but many are concerned that new technology like Shimon could result in lost jobs for millions of people.

The belief is that as more services become automated, more humans will become replaceable in their lines of work, including those in the creative industry. There are already robots that can create works of art from sight, causing many to question if AIs will eventually improve upon our artistic abilities to the point that they make human art obsolete.

Will the robot music industry take over humankind’s? While the concern of a dystopian future in which humans are entirely replaced by robots certainly isn’t unfounded, a much more likely future is one in which robots work alongside humans to improve their work.

Experts say that artificial intelligence will actually create jobs for humans, not destroy them. The Guardian recently reported that by 2037, artificial intelligence will create more than 7 million new jobs in the healthcare, education, and science fields in the UK.

Similarly, Forbes reported that 77% of companies expect no net change in the size of their workforces due to the expansion of artificial intelligence and 17% anticipate a net growth. While robots will assuredly replace humans in some of the most menial of jobs, they will also create new and possibly more rewarding jobs for people.

AI Will Inspire Creators

Shimon is showing us what can happen when robots don’t just work for us, but with us. When creating the robot, Weinberg’s objective wasn’t to replace his own music but to gain inspiration. As he explains, “I’m now more connected to popular music, to songs with lyrics, and that’s something I’ve never been able to do.”

The way Shimon was built, with an expansive musical database, makes it possible for Weinberg and others to gain exposure to musical genres they may have never accessed on their own. Shimon’s programming also allows him to suggest lyrics, based on words inputted by the programmer. The robot follows a similar process for melodies.

“I don’t know how to write a song in a regular pop, rock, hip-hop structure,” Weinberg describes, “maybe if Shimon as a robot will help me compose lyrics, it will inspire me to write songs. I will take some of his ideas, not only for lyrics but also for music, and together in an iterative kind of way, we’ll compose a song together and he will be able to sing it.”

Unlike previous technological advancements in music such as the player piano, Shimon is not a musical robot but rather, a robotic musician. Weinberg explains, “That means when he listens like a human, he has all kinds of perceptual algorithms that allow him to perceive music the same way we do.”

Shimon will not be putting any of our favorite musicians out of work any time soon, but his robot music will certainly be challenging and inspiring them in new ways. Rap battles, jam sessions, and symphony orchestras alike may begin to look and act drastically different thanks to the innovation of Weinberg and his team.

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