You may or may not have stumbled on Compressorhead, a three robot rock group, and self declared “only real metal band.” The above video includes a Mohawked gear assembly drummer.

The underlying programming of this grungy Real Steel is more upjumped player piano than R2D2 gone punk.

DARPA -that’s the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – is attempting the more difficult task of teaching machines to create jazz in real time. By coaching AI in the art of improvisation – pattern recognition and adaptive problem solving– the agency hopes, at end, to create better robot soldiers. If successful in the jazz improv challenge, DARPA’s potentially breaches the threshold of ‘thinking machines.’

Mastering this particular creative task involves skills that may translate to other endeavors including battle planning, evasion, even hand-to-hand combat.

When Alan Turing of NAZI Enigma code cracking fame asked, “Can Machines Think?,” he meant, can they think like us – the most complex technology extant. Guidance counselors past might have quashed musical aspirations in favor of more marketable training, but where AI is concerned, the ability to feel a note line and respond in kind is a miraculous aspiration..

To get there, a program is tasked with parsing many successful jazz improvisation samples to create rule sets that can be applied to new situations. Executing this task involves a sure footed and deft touch that is often ascribed to experience. Machines can theoretically time compress years of human ‘wood shedding’ to hours. If the end result passes for human musicianship – DARPA will have crossed an important AI milestone, and moved closer to autonomous thinking machines.

Whether playing killer riffs leads to just plain old killer isn’t yet clear. Perhaps a love of art will produce potent android pacifists. After all, if you teach machines to think for themselves, they might just decide they’ve better pursuits than the human tribal conflict that consumes our planet.

I wonder what an AI protest song sounds like.

Thank you, TiA.


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