In with the new

Ray Kurzweil and others tell us we're approaching the singularity, that moment in the not-too-distant future when machines become as intelligent as humans. Moments later they're smarter than us, and in weeks or months they've developed their own secret language, unparsable to humans, and we have the intelligence of root tubers compared to them. Then what happens?

I don't know the answer to that question – no-one does – but as a musician I'm curious to understand if machines are capable of developing emotions. Emotion is at the core of my experience of jazz, as composer, performer or listener. With a little training, almost anyone (or anything) can write a piece that simply obeys some mathematical rules of composition. Beyond that, I'm sure that machines could faithfully render a Coltrane classic – they can probably do it now – but will they eventually be able to create emotionally-infused music to rival that of human composers? Of course, thinking machines may decide that new scales, tonal structures and rhythms – their own musical language – are more to their liking and develop music that humans can't understand (or maybe our children can, to borrow an ancient trope).

I'm about as deep as a puddle on sheet glass after a summer shower, so I'll leave it to others to expand on this topic. In the meantime, you can catch up to the current state of machines and music composition with an in-depth article that appeared in Mother Jones earlier this year.

What do you think?

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