Can a robot write a symphony?

Detective Del Spooner : Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams, but not you, you are just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a… canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?

Sonny : Can you?

Movie: I, Robot, 2004. (After Asimov).

A robot can write a symphony, it just can not understand it. Music (just as language) represents a grammatical order accessible to pure algorithmic logic and/or the probabilistic, imitative functional approximations of Machine Learning.

Arguments as to the aesthetic merit of such musical scores should keep philosophers of technology and historians of music busy and gainfully employed for many decades. (The detritus of computational engineering in data science and as acquired model bias is giving a second wind to humanities graduates as AI ethicists.)

I would rather ask: “Can a robot understand the music or feel the frisson invoked by a symphonic crescendo?” This seems rather unlikely in the immediate future. (I lean towards John Searle’s position on the nature of machine “understanding”).

AI is an eminently useful and (indeed) era-defining technology but it understands nothing; it remains a savant without a soul. Such a logical lyrebird is indeed fascinating but, simultaneously, quite utterly empty of sentient experience or subjective individuation. I look forward to (eventually) being proven wrong.

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