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Opinion

Artificial Intelligence is no match for the human heart

When an artificial intelligence bot, ChatGPT, was asked to write a song in the style of Nick Cave, the artist was less than impressed

Nick Cave said something interesting last week. That’s not uncommon. He’s no slouch. On this occasion, he was reacting to a question from a fan. Cave does this a lot on the Red Hand Files, his online repository where he answers any number and range of enquiries from devotees. This one was about artificial intelligence. There is an open access AI bot, ChatGPT, that some people have been playing with to see if it can create as well as a human. Mark, from Christchurch in New Zealand, fired in a load of Cave’s lyrics, got a resulting set of lyrics and sent them to Cave asking for his reaction.

“The apocalypse is well on its way,” said Nick. “This song sucks.”

Nick Cave’s problem with it all is twofold. One, that the march of AI is now unstoppable. It is, he believes, “an emerging horror” that will lead to a “utopian future… or total destruction”. This fear is not new – others have shared it. Not so long ago, Blake -Lemoine, a software engineer, was fired by Google after claiming one of their AI programmes was becoming sentient. Speaking to base fears, it became a global story.

Cave’s biggest issue, and one that really gets to the core of something, is the nature of creation. You can feed as much data into an AI machine as you like, have it crunch through algorithms and make it come up with a version of all that it seeks to create. It could present something that is a bit like Nick Cave, or a bit like a Heaney poem or any number of other immeasurably great things – an infinite number, really. 

But artificial intelligence can’t get to the heart. It can’t, as Cave said, go through the internal human struggle of creation. It is destined to imitate, but never get to the real moment.

Our use of data in itself is useful, increasingly so. Gathered data can tell us how inflation is galloping, where ambulances are most likely to be delayed and how many people this will impact. In the future, artificial intelligence will help more with medical procedures or fix satellites in orbit to make our earthbound activities function better.

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And there will be an increase in pieces of research and tests here and there to see if people can tell the difference between human-created art, or literature or music, and that from the binary blinks of a machine.

Ultimately we can find it. In music, particularly, the difference will be clear. Our brain on music, to steal Daniel Levitin’s phrase, senses what we cannot quite articulate. It is the strange gap in the silences, a moment as the notes change and our emotions follow, the sensation that somebody has crystallised and memorialised something extraordinary that will forever mean a complex set of things and leave us completely changed. As Nick Cave says, it’s the redemptive artistic act that stirs the heart of the listener. 

It can strike at the least expected moment. I was in a taxi last week and the driver was listening to a live version of James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful. This is a song that frequently provokes a very strong, usually negative, response in people. On this early-morning drive, as we headed south through a darkened and cold Glasgow, the driver started to sing along. Not loud, not showy, not tongue in cheek. He just sang to this song, and every now and again he got a -little emotional. It was a barely perceptible reaction, but I noticed it. And so this song, which has become a byword for all that is hackneyed, took on a whole new meaning. At the end of the trip I didn’t know what to say or do – do I congratulate him, smile beatifically, tell him he’s a great singer? I got out and said thanks. 

We’re in a time when there is something in the air, a change, or foreboding, or a long-needed correction.

Part of that, it seems, is seeing a James Blunt song in an immeasurably different way because a stranger in a taxi found his heart forever stirred. And why not?

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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