Flying cars, learning machines and domed cities — since the Industrial Revolution, humans have envisioned a future filled with striking, complex machinery. Hollywood has expanded on this concept, producing intense science fiction films like “Blade Runner” (1982) and “The Terminator” (1984) in which evil machines hide among humans, overtaking mankind and wreaking havoc on the planet.
Although my fear does not present in the form of killer bots, it still stems from the need for control — the fear that machines may advance beyond and prey upon humans. I find myself paranoid that Alexa snoops on my conversations; the talking robot Sophia gives me the chills; deepfakes keep me up at night and I maintain fear when I hear about programs such as DALL-E that seem to threaten human creativity.
Like most people, I have always been afraid of artificial intelligence. At least that is what I thought. Truthfully, beyond my fear lies a more general aversion. I have the Beatles and U2 to thank for my recent realization.
Like most young lovers of the ’60s and ’70s era rock, I was excited when I heard that the Beatles would release one last song, “Now and Then” (2023). Although it’s no “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967), when I listened to the song, I savored how the crew fused together one last time. I listened intently as Paul McCartney and George Harrison strummed on the guitar, as Paul’s voice harmonized with John Lennon’s demos and Ringo Starr’s drums. The music video almost made me cry. Yet, I could not allow myself to drool; this song was produced using artificial intelligence.
Though I miss the sound of pure instrumental talent such as Steely Dan and Prince, I appreciate the talkbox voices of Daft Punk and the synthy, lo-fi beats of Steve Lacy. I enjoy Paul’s “McCartney III Imagined” (2021), an album that features modern remixed covers of 2020’s “McCartney III.” Surely it was not the new production style that made me uneasy. Even after research disproved my original notion that the song reconstructed Lennon’s voice — the AI merely separated and enhanced John’s vocals from a 1970s demo — my mind was already made up. What, then, is behind my aversion? My answer: the same principle lying behind my aversion to a beautiful, spherical fantasy in Vegas.
The sun peeks through fluffy clouds, radiating light on me and lighting up the stage into a glistening, vibrant reddish-orange. Bono serenades me with songs I grew up on. I am in heaven. But as I put my phone down, I am reminded that the audience is literally engulfed by a 3D sphere. But so what? Obviously, these U2 fans know that they are surrounded by a bubble of LED pucks. Yet, for a moment, they are transported into an alternate reality among the clouds — or the Atlantic or the northern lights. Sphere pretends to be nature. This mimicry bothers me. Instead of harnessing the beauty and structure of the real world, Sphere utilizes technology to mock the real world. It feels wrong that we live on a beautiful planet, yet instead of experiencing it in real life, we are pretending through our screens.
I guess my aversion to the Sphere and “Now and Then” stems from a desperate plea to leave the pure untouched — in this case, music. It seems we are on the path to a world where we can no longer distinguish between reality and technology. Naturally, this has already proven detrimental to the political and social worlds. But what scares me even more is the looming inability to escape technology. We are already at a point where we rely on our phones to escape uncomfortable situations — passing by an old friend in the dining hall, or waiting in line for a CVS purchase. As a child, I would play outside for hours in the chilly New England weather. Besides NHL Network, my largest consumption of technology was Brickbreaker on my dad’s Blackberry. Today, at concerts, during class and among friends, phones are always present. In a world where technology is so hard to avoid, I crave these moments of connection through pure music. I may be too late though; it seems “Now and Then” have begun to blend into one.
As I look towards the Tufts community, though, I see hope. Sam Cranston is a first-year who struck a balance between instrumental and technological talent. Sam performs in Davis Square with his band Vimāna. On the piano, Sam performs neo-soul. On his computer, Sam utilizes the digital audio workstation FLStudio, which he uses to make melodies and beats. In 2022, a beat he produced on Zoom with his friend went on to be featured in “Issa Photoshoot” (2022) by Gucci Mane and Enchanting. Sam says technology can “open the doors for a new way to create music.” Technology can make sound more accessible for a larger base of artists — instead of hiring an entire orchestra, artists can replicate such sounds online. As for the generation of music using AI, Sam says that technology is not “the next star,” noting humans’ “unique creative capabilities.” Technology can replicate already released music but will fail to produce something entirely new and innovative. Overall, Sam says people should be able to choose whether they want music embedded with technology or not. I would push audiences to recognize what type of music they consume as music and technology become more blended.