Skip to Content

Google Brain Wants Creative AI to Help Humans Make a “New Kind of Art”

The search giant’s AI research division has developed a deep-learning tool to produce music and art with humans in the loop.
March 29, 2017

Machine-learning algorithms aren’t likely to put painters or singer-songwriters out of work anytime soon, to judge from their body of work to date. But Google Brain is developing tools that pair artists with deep-learning tools to develop novel artwork together, said Douglas Eck, senior staff scientist at the search giant’s artificial-intelligence research division, during the MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital conference on Tuesday.

He hopes the platform, called Magenta, will allow people to produce completely new kinds of music and art, in much the way that keyboards, drum machines, and cameras did. Eck said that Magenta could serve a role analogous to that of Les Paul, who helped develop the modern electric guitar. But Eck said they want to keep artists in the loop to push the boundaries of the new tool in interesting ways, like a Jimi Hendrix who flips it upside down, bends the strings, and distorts the sound.

“The fun is in finding new ways to break it and extend it,” he said.

Eck, previously an associate professor of computer science at the University of Montreal, said he was drawn to the project as a “failed musician” himself. As a guitarist and pianist who used to play “post-punk-folk” in coffee shops, he had fans numbering in the “dozens,” he said.

Google Brain is continually trying to improve Magenta’s algorithms for creating songs and producing art transfers from images. On stage, Eck played a computer-generated piano tune that got progressively more listenable as the tool was given more rules to follow, ultimately generating a phrase that might have the early makings of a jingle for a toothpaste ad.

A critical challenge now is developing better human interfaces for the technology. The researchers started with the equivalent of a command-line prompt, but Eck said he wants to get closer to the “naturalness” of a guitar stomp pedal. He hopes the project will attract talented musicians and coders to continue to enhance the tool and apply it in new ways.

“I don’t think that machines themselves just making art for art’s sake is as interesting as you might think,” he said. “The question to ask is, can machines help us make a new kind of art?”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.