A close colleague of mine is a lifelong space-tech nerd and science fiction reader. Back in the nineties he mentioned something I ignored but should not have. It was a warning about 21st century Artificial Intelligence [AI] and what it could do and why these expected improvements in AI were significant for all areas of employment – music included. I can remember thinking that the realm of ‘The Arts’ was untouchable because it relied on the innate character of humanity to produce its products. Machines could supposedly never copy this.
So twenty years later we are confronted by machines with millions of lines of well written code that just don’t win Jeopardy or beat the best Chess and Go players in the world. These damned machines write poetry, plays, and music, and are moving aggressively into the fields of Law, Medicine, Accounting and just about any area where big, well crunched data can detect a pattern, improve it and utilize it. Shockingly, ‘The Arts’ are in this area. So should we be worried?
I say no and let me tell you why. More specifically, let me tell you why music and the associated skills that ride the artistic bus with it are probably one of the best ways to stay employed, interesting to employers and flexible enough to survive the coming age. Let me tell you why music is one of the best ways to stay ahead of the game.
From the ability of music education to improve the academic outcomes of the student, in both the arts and the sciences, to the neural flexibility provided by the musical education process, the acquisition of musical skills puts the student and citizen at the top of the ladder when it comes to multi-skilling in the area of arts employment. That flexibility means employment survivability in the coming age. My educated guess that the artistically skilled, especially the musically skilled, will be neck and neck with the computer nerds and programmers, is based on the lifelong observation of the musical and industry talent that has risen up around us.
Music, in particular, has an example set of diverse performers who came from numerous backgrounds and experiences. They come from those with native talent to those who have highly developed skills. So we go from one end of the spectrum with; Tina Arena who first sang at a cousin’s wedding and later went on to Young Talent Time, to Ricki -Lee Coulter, [discovered by her mum when singing in the shower], to Glenn Shorrock who, as a school boy had his talent exposed when he just kept singing when doing an Elvis impersonation and the power went off to the record player.
Further towards the other end we see the likes of Conservatorium graduates as with Judith Durham or stage trained affiliates like Missy Higgins and Nikki Webster who have come to their skills by other more structured means. Either way they are working with something that the public responds to in an industry that is very broad.
Do you think we can’t make a robot that can run faster than a man? Of course not but will you go and watch it at the Olympics? Because a dolphin can swim better than you will you never swim again? Because a computer can write poetry will people never write poetry again and who is it you will go to hear when they recite their work at a seminar, club or coffee shop? Man or machine? Will you go to a pub to listen to five talented, garage taught, rockers or will the interesting and clever vibes produced by a very clever machine keep you at home to stare at your pastel blue Bose speaker while you think, ‘There’s got to be more to it than this?’
No, I think the true fabric of communication generated by our common humanity will always put us beyond machine competition. Saying this I do not think we should ignore these new technologies. Like the synthesizer or any other invention before or after it, these clever machines are just tools and we should make use of them for our own benefit.
After all, when has “The Arts” ever baulked at a challenge? From the determination of our ancestors at Lascaux or Altamira to express their daily lives on cave walls , and brilliantly so I might add, to the glory of the Gothic churches, the multi-hued icons of a hundred faiths and the challenging designs of fashion and fiction the elemental substance of the artistic human spirit has risen to every challenge.
I believe the coming age will be another such example. We will not wither but bloom. It is what makes us human. Music throughout the ages and into the future will be the enabler to assist humankind to be unleashed and fill the stars.