In Brief
  • Using 100 hours of Christmas music to get the basics of a melody, a new technology called "neural karaoke" helped a computer write a Christmas song.
  • Someday, more advanced versions of the program could serve as a virtual coach for wannabe stars on X Factor, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent."

Deck the HALs

HAL, the malevolent artificial intelligence (AI) in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, may be responsible for ruining the idea of AI singing/songwriting for the rest of time. One of the most confusingly terrifying and heartbreaking scenes in film history simply involves the AI singing one final song as it is being permanently shut down.

However, as we humans are typically not ones wont to learn from our past. We have recently decided to give some real AI the ability to create music. Researchers from Toronto have unleashed a new technology called “neural karaoke” to help a computer learn to write a Christmas song. The results were one part “Star Wars according to a 3 year old,” and one part Steve Buscemi’s “Howdy do, fellow kids!” It has a sprinkling of some broad stroke ideas of the holiday season, but something just isn’t right.

To all of those who desperately wondered what it would sound like if your old family computer borrowed a human suit and tried to fit in at this year’s Christmas party, your prayers have been answered.

Quick Study

As preparation to create this magnum opus, the AI listened to 100 hours of Christmas music to get the basics of a melody, to which it later added some light accompaniment. The lyrics were derived from a series of themed photographs (in which, there were apparently “lots and lots and lots of flowers”).

All jokes aside, while this may not be the most impressive instance of AI creativity on record, it is the most festive. Previous ventures in musical AI have brought us the Beatles inspired “Daddy’s Car,” as well as a musical composition in the style of Bach.

Perhaps there will be a future for non-human songwriters. Maybe this technology could even make its way onto television in the vein of Watson’s tenure on “Jeopardy!” According to the Guardian, Raquel Urtasun associate professor in machine learning and computer vision at Toronto’s computer science lab said “more advanced versions of the Toronto lab’s program might one day serve as a virtual coach for wannabe stars on X Factor, The Voice, and America’s Got Talent.”

This makes one of the lines in the song strangely prescient, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.” We will see in time, but until then, let’s keep an eye on the pod bay doors.