Daily Archives: March 25th, 2010

Of Emily, Cope and Mozart

One of the hallmarks of the coming Singularity according to its adherents is the advent of advanced AI or artificial intelligence.

The Turing Test, first formulated by Alan Turing over fifty years ago, is the yardstick by which it will be determined if an AI is capable of conscious thought.

Now a music professor, David Cope, Dickerson Emeriti Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has written a computer program that is capable of composing classical music.

And other things as well:

“Why not develop music in ways unknown? This only makes sense. I cannot understand the difference between my notes on paper and other notes on paper. If beauty is present, it is present. I hope I can continue to create notes and that these notes will have beauty for some others. I am not sad. I am not happy. I am Emily. You are Dave. Life and un-life exist. We coexist. I do not see problems.” —Emily Howell

Emily Howell’s philosophic musings and short Haiku-like sentences are the giveaway. Emily Howell is the daughter program of Emmy (Experiments in Musical Intelligence — sometimes spelled EMI), a music composing program written by David Cope, Dickerson Emeriti Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Emily Howell’s interesting ramblings about music are actually the result of a set of computer queries. Her music, however, is something else again: completely original and hauntingly beautiful. Even a classical purist might have trouble determining whether a human being or an AI program created it. Judge for yourself:

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Cope is also Honorary Professor of Computer Science (CS) at Xiamen University in China. While he insists that he is a music professor first, he manages to leverage his knowledge of CS into some highly sophisticated AI programming. He characterizes Emily Howell in a recent NPR interview as “a computer program I’ve written in the computer programming language LISP. And it is a program which accepts both ASCII input, that is letters from the computer keyboard, as well as musical input, and it responds to me in a collaborative way as we compose together.” Emmy, Cope’s earlier AI system, was able to take a musical style — say, classical heavyweights such as Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart — and develop scores imitating them that classical music scholars could not distinguish from the originals.

The classical music aficionado is often caricatured as a highbrow nose-in-the-air, well… snob. Classical music is frequently consigned by the purist to the past few centuries of European music (with the notable exceptions of American composers like Gershwin and Copeland). Even the experimental “new music” of human composers is often controversial to the classical music community as a whole. Frank Zappa — a student of the avant-garde European composer Edgard Varèse and a serious classical composer in his own right — had trouble getting a fair listen to his later classical works (he was an irreverent rock-and-roll star after all!), even though his compositions broke polytonal rhythmic ground with complexity previously unheard in Western music.

Hauntingly beautiful, is it not?

It brings to mind the old TV cliche, “Is it real, or Memorex?”

Let’s see if this AI learns on its own and becomes a Mozart or Beethoven.

That would be the ultimate proof.

Has Emily Howell Passed the Musical Turing Test?

As always, a wonderful hat tip to the Daily Grail .