Our occasional correspondent Charles Louis de Secondchat, Baron de la Breed et de Montemiaou, has sent us an essay in which he promises to disagree with Dr. Boli, but then writes very little that is disagreeable.

The whole essay is worth reading, and though Dr. Boli quotes only a few lines here, he earnestly recommends the full original.

The essay was provoked because Dr. Boli did not express himself clearly on the subject of artificial intelligence in entertainment. The Baron believes that artificial intelligence will soon be able to mimic the style of the best singers, Edith Piaf included.

I think humans have a bad tendency to assume that there must remain some area of human expertise that will remain free of the unceasing encroachment of machine intelligence. This frequently express itself in the belief there is something unique about artistic expression that will remain forever out of the reach of the allegedly strictly-logical machines.

But in fact, as the Baron points out, artistic expression is just where artificial intelligence excels. It is useless for the things we might reasonably have wanted to use it for. Our friend Father Pitt provides us with a perfect example: he asked Bing to get him a searchable map of property owners in Pittsburgh in 1910, and Bing very politely told him, “Do it yourself.” Bing did mention that there was a site that had scanned copies of plat maps from that time, and suggested that Father Pitt could “search manually.” Yes, but do you know what would be really good at sifting through a mountain of written information to find one relevant detail? A computer!

Ask the bots to be creative, though, and they will come through with the goods. This is perhaps because there are no absolute standards for creativity, so we cannot tell them with complete assurance that they have done it wrong.

As the robot brains absorb more and more of our culture, they will be able to imitate anything humans can do. More than that, they will be able to create new works of art beyond what we could have imagined. As the Baron says,

The answer to the question “Can a robot sing as well as Edith Piaf?” is “Not yet, but they can already mimic the style and they almost certainly will be able to, given a few updates.” (Whether humans choose to make them sing like Edith Piaf is another matter.)

But in that last parenthetical remark lies the very problem Dr. Boli had identified, though he did not express himself clearly enough. When we hear the Auto-Tune-addled pop music of today, we must remember that we have a choice. It is not the computers who decided to make the music sound that way. We were the ones who decided to feed all our singers through a black box that makes them sound like robots. We wanted it that way.

Dr. Boli still believes that entertainment by artificial intelligence will be blandly perfect and vapidly predictable. But he does not believe that because he thinks AI will be incapable of doing better. On the contrary, he takes it for granted that the artificial brains will work better than ours in every way. No, Dr. Boli believes that AI will produce insipid entertainment for us because we will train it to do so. We will tell it that vapidity is what we want, and it will shovel out the vapidity by the carload. There will be no human artist—like the Muzak arrangers, for example—to say, “Well, they may want vapidity, but I still have to have some fun.” No, we will get exactly what we want, and nothing more. We will get the most perfectly vapid entertainment the superior robot minds can devise for us, and it will be all our fault.