An artificial intelligence program has written a Christmas carol. Sort of.
Researchers at the University of Toronto used their “neural karaoke” program to write a Christmas carol based off of a “Christmassy photograph,” The Guardian reports.
The scientists simply uploaded the photograph into a computer hosting the program and then “let it do its thing.” The artificial intelligence program then wrote several lines of lyrics and sang them to music it composed during the process.
All things considered, the results were impressive, but the artificial intelligence-generated Christmas carol still falls flat in many ways.
— Bismart (@Bismart2009) November 30, 2016
“It will not, if there is any certainty left in the world, top the charts this Christmas,” Ian Sample writes for The Guardian. “But what it lacks in party hit potential, it more than makes up for with its unique, if vaguely unsettling, brand of festive cheer.”
Despite the shortcomings of the carol, the researchers who developed the artificial intelligence that penned it are very proud of the accomplishment and see several possible applications for such a program.
“We are used to thinking about AI for robotics and things like that,” Raquel Urtasun, a professor of machine learning and computer vision in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, told The Guardian. “The question now is what can AI do for us?”
Sanja Fidler, another professor in the University of Toronto Department of Computer Science, echoes Urtasun’s sentiment.
“You can imagine having an AI channel on Pandora or Spotify that generates music, or takes people’s pictures and sings about them,” Fidler said. “It’s about what can deep learning do these days to make life more fun?”
Hang Chu, a Ph.D student at the university, explained to the Guardian that the neural karaoke program arose from a larger research effort to develop artificial intelligence that could compose music, write lyrics, and even choreograph dance routines.
“Once trained, the program can take a musical scale and melodic profile and produce a simple 120-beats-per-minute melody,” Sample writes. “It then adds chords and drums.”
While the researchers at the University of Toronto are pleased with the results of the Christmas carol their artificial intelligence created, others have pointed out that the song is, predictably, awkward and even has a bit of dark side to it.
— Ephemeral Media (@EphemeralMedia) December 10, 2016
“[T]he little carol it penned after viewing a festive Christmas tree is an absolutely horrifying display of what these things think of us,” Clayton Purdom wrote for the A.V. Club.
Looking at some of the lines the neural karaoke artificial intelligence program crafted, such as “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives” and “I can hear the music coming from the hall,” Purdom takes a whimsical and perhaps exaggeratively anxious view on potential underlying themes in the song.
“Why the f*ck is there music coming from the hall?” Purdom asks.
“Who is out there, and what are they doing? Why will ‘you’ always be here, singer? These are not lyrics, they are the moans of the damned, trapped between this world and something beyond it, just conscious enough to know they are not at rest.”
In reference to the researchers suggesting one could imagine a Pandora or Spotify station playing songs composed by artificial intelligence, Purdom jokes that that might be a bad idea.
“They are correct: You can imagine that,” Purdom writes. “You just may not want to. Science fiction has taught us not to trust singing robots, let alone ones with tidings as dire as these.”
Saying we should not trust singing robots is a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which HAL 9000, an artificial intelligence program that helps control the ship, turns homicidal.
In the end, the Christmas carol produced by the neural karaoke artificial intelligence may not be perfect, but, like the researchers suggest, it definitely shows potential — for something.
[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]