In September, during IFA Berlin (“Europe’s Biggest Tech Show”), I was invited to speak about Artificial Intelligence and music at a top executive event of Deutsche Telekom. This is a slightly edited version of my speech and I hope that some of you might find some inspiration in these thoughts.
Big Data, Data Science, and Artificial Intelligence are changing the world. There are few areas that are not affected. Business models that lasted for decades are being disrupted by these technologies. Many of you know the phenomenon and most likely have similar problems in your business. How can we cope with the flood of data and algorithms? How can we benefit from new technologies without being dependent on third parties? In addition, the future of employment is uncertain. Some even see existential threats from artificial intelligence systems.
I am not one of those who is afraid of this Data Revolution or Artificial Intelligence. On the contrary, I am excited about what is already being developed from the combination of the human mind and machine knowledge. The questions I face are: How can we creatively use these new technologies to develop ourselves as human beings? And more concretely related to our businesses: How can we use the creative handling of technology to create new business areas? For me, the combination of man and machine complimenting each other is at the centre.
But what is the connection between the two worlds? First and foremost, it is the data that represents our world, light waves that strike our retina, molecular structures that we can feel, and natural frequencies that we hear through our ears and perceive through the skin. All of this is processed through our bodies and subsequently into our brains as data streams. Our brain recognizes, filters, combines, stores and forgets. That’s how awareness arises, that´s how memories are created; feelings and eventually our world view, our ego.
However, the human perception of the world is restricted because, on the one hand, the capacity of our human body to absorb and process data is limited by the bandwidth of our inputs, and on the other hand, by the computational power of our brain’s neural networks. And by this limitation, we are ultimately limited as a being. We simply can not grow beyond our hardware.
But what if we could broaden our perception of the world, if we were able to internalize the experiences and memories of others as if they were our own? Imagine, if in a short space of time we could absorb the essence of life, an important experience, what another person, for example, has taken ten years or an entire lifetime to experience and acquire as knowledge.
Exactly this is what music does for us! It compresses human experiences in the highest form, in pure emotions, moods, and feelings. It does so through abstract structures — the musical works written down by composers — which are then played and bought to life by musicians. Codified experiences at the level of the musical work are thus enriched by the musicians with their experiences and feelings and then decoded, perceived and processed by us, the audience. What happens there is, something like a compressed world experience of a person, which can then be modelled by many people.
But what would happen if we take that to another level, so that this compressed world experience would not only be possible from one person to others, but from all people to all others? If, then, we came closer to the goal of understanding the totality of the musical world, in order to outgrow as a species far beyond what we as individuals can experience? Just as Google has set itself the goal of making the knowledge of humanity entirely accessible.
[Here I would ask you to please close your eyes and listen to the following music. Then, after a few seconds, open your eyes and look at the beautiful visualizations of Stephen Malinowski’s MusicEyes while listening to the music.]
Together with scientists from the KUG Graz, the University Mozarteum, the Johannes Kepler University Linz, MIT and Stanford, we investigate this question at the Karajan Institute. Our goal is not just to do basic music research, but to develop practical software applications for our customers that will allow us to grow the market for our products. We run data science for the classical music business! The musical interpretations of Herbert von Karajan are connected note by note with the symbolic musical notation of the composers. So we measure the time that elapses between each played note, how the sound quality changes between the notes and much more. Because Herbert von Karajan has recorded many works of music history more than once, each piece of music has a multi-dimensional matrix of data containing all the important information about the “HOW is this music being played”?
Now imagine that we are doing this not just for one work, but for all works in the recorded history of music. Imagine further that we not only read the interpretations of Herbert von Karajan, but also those of all other conductors that ever recorded music. The result is an overall picture of music making of the last 100 years, which now allows us to program business applications and new products in education, visualization and composition.
The goal of the whole undertaking, and so I come back to my initial question, is now to use machine learning on this data for systems of creative musical intelligence. Because we know how a particular note sequence was played in the history of music, we can also build systems that generate a “human” interpretation of previously unknown sequences.
Currently, over 300,000 musical works have been added to the Peachnote/Petrucci library, a database of musical works. Today, technologists and researchers can support the creative process of composers and musicians for example, with an auto-complete of melodies or harmonic sequences in a variety of styles. Or in a VR application where you can conduct yourself, the music of Karajan. The music follows exactly your instructions! For example, some music startups use this data for a piano accompanist who enhances the musical fantasies of the user in Mozart’s style.
But the applications are also moving into education, where virtual assistants are built to help young musicians practice, by listening, accompanying, and pointing out undesirable developments.
All these examples, and there is much more to discover, have one thing in common: they expand the creative potential of our society by giving each and every one of us, our colleagues and employees, the opportunity to grow beyond their own creative potential.
What is necessary for this? From my point of view, it takes a fresh look at the data streams that arise in our companies and in the interaction with customers and business partners. Let us explore the possibilities beyond proven methods and standards. At the Karajan Institute, we did this by putting managers, technologists, and musicians in one room and exploring the theoretical options without parameters. Unless you already do, set up your teams as creatively as possible, give leeway where standard operating procedures otherwise set the tone, and then pursue the ideas and potentials that come with all your business acumen. For us in classical music, this worked out wonderfully and I see no reason why it should not work in other parts of the economy as well.