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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > April 2019 > Machine Mozarts

Machine Mozarts

Artists and musicians beware—AI has got much further than you might think, discovers Philip Ball
The Creativity Code: How AI is Learning to Write, Paint and Think by Marcus du Sautoy (Fourth Estate, £20)

In 2012, Iamus released a CD of classical music performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Music critic Tom Service was somewhat dismissive, calling Iamus’s composition Hello World! “so unmemorable, and the way it’s elaborated so workaday, that the piece leaves no distinctive impression.” But it wasn’t a bad debut really—when you consider that Iamus is not a composer but a computer algorithm, developed by researchers at the University of Málaga in Spain. Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician and Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, doesn’t talk about Iamus in his new book The Creativity Code, but the question he poses about such efforts amounts to this: can we call Iamus a composer? When Iamus’s compositions were played to musically informed listeners, they were unable to distinguish them from music in a similar (modernist) style composed by humans. In a classic 1950 paper, Alan Turing asked: “Can machines think?” If we were unable, in a remote conversation, to distinguish the responses of a person from those of a computer, then we might have to acknowledge that they could. This AI system, then, passes a musical version of the Turing Test.

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In Prospect’s April issue: Mark Damazer, the former controller of BBC Radio 4, tells the inside story of how the BBC has tried—and sometimes failed—to cover the political crisis that overshadows everything else. Elsewhere in the issue: Playwright and screenwriter James Graham profiles John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, as he takes centre-stage in the unfolding Brexit drama and Tom Clark examines the Independent Group and argues that they could well shake up the established political tribes. Also, Jennifer Williams highlights the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in Manchester—a city that is simultaneously experiencing a housing boom and a homelessness crisis.