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Arts News
International Art News: How AI is writing books and music, but won’t be replacing humans any time soon – SCMP (10-3-2019)
13/03/2019

• A growing number of creative types around the world are taking advantage of AI technology to supplement their works.
• ‘When I have writers’ block, I use these programs to get unstuck,’ says one, but the consensus is that AI lacks the soul to create anything truly great.

In Fear Machine, published in February, Chinese sci-fi writer Stanley Chen Qiufan used artificial intelligence – in the form of a text generator – to create some of the dialogue. Though none of the machine-generated content introduced new ideas to the short story, or took Chen’s narrative in a new direction, the voice and style behind the words were uncannily similar to those of the author.

Chen, 37, says the AI prototype, developed by investment firm Sinovation Ventures, has been programmed with his past works – a back catalogue consisting of more than one million Chinese characters.

Though the programming had to be adjusted a few times to attain the best outcome, Chen says the idea of using AI for writing is fascinating.

“Traditional literature is getting boring and is unrelated to our fast-evolving technological life. We need something fresh to stimulate people’s thoughts and feelings,” he says.

Other than Fear Machine, which is one of six stories in Chen’s short story collection Algorithms for Life, the Chinese writer also used AI to help him with A State of Trance, which was published last year in the Chinese bi-monthly magazine Fiction World.

“That was my first time to use AI to write a story,” says Chen, whose 2013 novel Waste Tide is being adapted for the big screen in the UK. “Out of the total 5,000 Chinese characters in A State of Trance, around 500 characters were written by AI. The AI-written words stay close to my style.”

Chen is among a growing number of creative types around the world who are taking advantage of AI technology.

Evan Miyawaki, for instance, a music major and saxophone player at Colorado College in the US, has been experimenting with different AI music composers. He is currently writing a thesis on the future applications of AI in music.

“Current AI music composers can mimic and learn how the human brain works. I compose music sometimes and I want to find a way to integrate AI into my own creative process. You can input [your preferences] into the system, like the music’s mood, style and the composer you want your piece to sound like. You can add to or alter the AI-generated sounds to create your own piece,” he says.

“I love the technologies as they can help with my creative processes,” he adds “When I have writers’ block and am kind of stuck in a composition, I use these programs to get unstuck. When using the systems, I feel like the human brain is kind of merged with the computer brain.”

With the breathtaking development of AI over the past few years, some fear it will, one day, take over from humans in running the world. The late physicist Stephen Hawking famously warned that AI could be the “worst event in the history of our civilisation” unless society finds a way to control its development.

Recently, the AI research charity OpenAI, which was co-founded by American billionaire Elon Musk, claimed it has designed a predictive text machine that can take a piece of writing and produce a number of following paragraphs in the same vein. The creators told the media that the machine was so good at self-generating passages that they would not release it as they were worried that the public might misuse it for nefarious purposes, such as creating hate speech.

Miyawaki says that while currently “muzak” – background music played in shops and other public places – can be composed by AI, machines won’t replace humans any time soon when it comes to composing works that are consumed for the purpose of enjoyment.

Zou Di, a composer living in Beijing who has scored music for films, says AI-produced music lacks the sort of soul that is essential for great music.

“AI-composed music sounds pleasing to the ears. From the viewpoint of a composer, you can’t find fault with it,” she says.

“However, such music is functional music and you won’t remember functional music after listening to it. Great music like pieces by Bach and Mozart show the individual spirit of the composers. The spirit is immortal. This spirit and soul, which is human nature, can never be replaced.

“When I write music, I want to express my emotions through the notes. I don’t want to just make music which sounds good.”

Chen says that using AI to write a story is “really a playful sci-fi experiment” and the current technology has limitations when it comes to writing fiction.

“The AI-generated writing is more like prose or poems,” he says. “It’s stylish but not logically coherent. To make it more natural, I have to create the context and scenarios and embed the AI-written parts in them. That’s how it works for now. At times, it feels like I’m writing for the AI than the other way around.”



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