Ever wonder what Led Zeppelin would sound like if Robert Plant was a song-writing robot? Ever wonder what George Washington’s high school photo might look like? Ever wonder would the world might look like without human songwriters, singers and photographers? Welcome to 2020 – the year artificial intelligence began writing and singing better-than-passable Led Zeppelin tunes and turning portrait paintings into really nice photographs. At least there aren’t bots that write articles, right? RIGHT???
“Using lyrics.rip to scrape the Genius Lyrics Database, I made a Markov Chain write Led Zeppelin lyrics. This is the end result- “Mountain Man”.”
A YouTuber named Funk Turkey has carved a little niche in the music world by using AI based on the mathematical system known as the Markov Chain to generate songs that sound similar in style to the music of AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Metalica, Red Hot Chili Peppers (fair warning in case you click the link) Nickelback, and now … Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin. (Listen to “Mountain Man” here.) A simple explanation of the Markov chain or Markov process (named for Russian mathematician Andrei Markov) is far beyond the pay grade of this writer (bot-voice in head: “But not beyond mine!”) but it’s used in chemistry to predict how random compounds could combine to form new drugs and is said to be the basis for most modern speech recognition systems. Speech recognition … that must be how it recognizes Plant’s voice and lyrics.
“The lyrics…. well, it sure spit out a lot of Robert Plant-esque adlib, which I think turned out okay. Towards the end with the repeating “Never”s in particular, which is something that Markov Chains do- repeat phrases that had been repeated once or twice, but to infinity. It actually repeated the word “never” almost 37 times but I had to cut it short to fit the song, and also to freaking breathe.”
Robert Plant is obviously a challenge even for AI, but having access to all Led Zeppelin lyrics helped create a passable song, which was then set to music by Funk Turkey to become “Mountain Man.” Yes (to the relief of songwriters), the Markov chain AI only generated lyrics, not music – that was added, along with some cleanup and fine-tuning – by Funk Turkey.
Moving on to the AI-generated historical headshots …
Photo retouching and editing has been going on ever since photography was invented – the addition of computer power is only the latest – albeit most threatening to reality and news integrity – version. If you consider a portraint to be just a really bad photograph, it makes sense that similar software could ‘clean it up’ and make a passable photographic version. Bas Uterwijk, an artist and photographer based in The Netherlands, agrees.
“The idea began when I discovered the A.I. had no problem fixing the marks and scratches on the only authenticated portrait of Billy the Kid I fed it. I then experimented with other historical figures of whom no or little photographic material existed: Napoleon, Julius Ceasar, Queen Elizabeth etc.”
Napoleon’s mugshot? It’s doable, although Uterwijk admits in a Digg interview that getting a good headshot out of a painted portrait “can take hours or even days of tweaking” the AI software, artbreeder.com. The end result is worth the effort, as one can see on his website (link here), which has his impressive AI-generated photographs of Washington, Napoleon, Vincent van Gogh, Lady Liberty, Jesus of Nazareth and … or course … Mona Lisa.
Is AI going to eliminate the need for songwriters, musicians and photographers? The both good and bad news is – not for a while. However, it should serve as a warning to creative people that good art – like chefs have found out about good food – will always have a market but getting paid what it’s worth when there are cheap AI knock-offs will forever be a challenge as great as the process of creating it.