Just Because We Can…
We are all familiar with the adage, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. There are times when the status quo and the beauty around us that enriches our lives is best left alone, unchanged.
Enter today’s computers capable of making calculations far faster than humanly possible, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Media touts how wonderful these machines will make our lives. Others fear robots will one day replace us. All of this is worthy of debate to allay our fears and better inform us of what we can expect. But sometimes we need to take a step back and think about just how far technology may go if left unrestrained.
In January, Huawei, the Chinese technology company under fire by a host of governments who fear Huawei is a tool China uses to hack into computer networks and threaten security, announced that it programmed a cell phone to complete Franz Schubert‘s Symphony No. 8, otherwise known as his Unfinished Symphony. Composed nearly 200 years ago, musicians and composers have debated for decades about what the symphony might have been if Schubert had completed it. The conversations were deep and steeped in musical history.
Now, according to Huawei, a cell phone programmed with artificial intelligence (AI), with some assistance from a human composer, has completed Schubert’s symphony. Huawei will unveil the results in February. You can watch their promotional campaign on YouTube by clicking here.
The AI completed symphony, albeit with some assistance from a human, will no doubt cause music aficionados to argue that no machine can ever replace the genius of Schubert and that Huawei’s exercise is nothing more than a parlor trick. In some ways, it probably is and relatively harmless in its own right.
If you watch the video, however, take particular notice of the tag line.
“If we can do this, what else could we make humanly possible?”
It all begs the question, “Will computer generated logic someday replace human creativity?” Are we living on the verge of interacting with the likes of StarTrek’s Mr. Spock or Hal from Sidney Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey? When will “humanly possible” be replaced with “robotically possible”?
As a society, we need to think more about AI and avoid blindly advancing technology for the sake of discovery. I know that some would see this as a naïve viewpoint from a Luddite, but the fact remains that we simply do not know or understand where this will lead. While discovery and exploration have been part of our DNA, past efforts have always had some level of acceptable and manageable risks. This debate is not about refraining from exploration and discovery. It is about better understanding where this is all going. Unlike Huawei’s parlor trick in completing Schubert’s symphony, what Huawei and many other technology giants are doing is anything but a game.
Consider this. We simply do not know how AI will affect our grandchildren and generations that follow. After all, there is no question that we teach today’s children less about how to learn to read and write and more about how to use technology. Why bother to learn if all you need to do is search Google or ask Alexa for any answer you seek? Books may soon be doomed to the junk drawer with all of our old music CDs.
Enjoy Schubert’s completed Symphony No. 8.