A Musician Challenged to Understand AI

As I discussed in a previous column, I am still a little awed by computers for the most part. Servers, algorithms, URL, IBM’s Watson, blockchain, cryptocurrency and hundreds of other computing related terms all look and sound EXACTLY the same to me. Foreign.

Now if you want to talk about guitars, ( I play Ovation and Fender), amps, strings, ( I prefer D’Adarrio), The Beatles (Gods, every one), Shure 58’s, mixing boards and the like, well I’m your man. I was, and remain currently, a professional musician. Those musical terms were no clearer to me in the beginning of my career, than the computing terms previously discussed above. Because music was important to me, I retained them for the past 50 years without any problem. I can sing probably 400 songs from memory without a lyric sheet. But with computers and their corresponding terminology, my brain is like a colander.

I recall Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s song, Lucky Man. That was the first time I ever heard a Moog Synthesizer. The high pitch solo at the end of the tune was a revelation in music at that time. Of course it was an early introduction of computer aided recorded music to the masses. It sounded like a combination of a Hammond Organ and a sci-fi movie soundtrack. We teens loved it. We had no clue how it was done or even why it was invented, but it was new and it was one our generation’s many contributions to rock and roll.

If you have similar issues with computers, don’t feel alone. However, it’s imperative that we try to learn, and memorize as much as possible about these little magical devices, because they will run our modern world completely before long. Quantum computing will revolutionize every industry. Imagine the fastest thing you can think of, say high speed information streaming around the world and into your computer at home. Quantum computing will make it 1,000 times faster. The major scientific research and medical facilities will use not just super computers to train doctors or to even perform the most delicate operations flawlessly, but they will be able to diagnose illness or disease in people, animals, plants and other living organisms over a video computer connection.

Blockchain tech, will allow you to follow the exact number of steps a chicken took before becoming your Sunday afternoon meal. Also, you can learn exactly what that chicken had to eat over its lifespan. The same with tomatoes or any other grown item. You will be able to use your smart phone to swipe over these products and find out some of the product history that you are looking for, as a way to be a smarter, healthier shopper. How that works, is what we will find out together on the pages of Seeflection.com.

Some days, as I am exposed more and more to this world of computers, it feels like I am watching a movie unfold in real life. The videos we study about new products, new vertical markets from these products, and the wizard-like results that computers produce, can make it seem like Utopia is only a couple of months away. Then there are other times when I feel like I’m being bulldozed by a technology that I do not understand, will never understand, and wonder how anyone understands this. The fear of AI or robots taking over the world runs deep across all levels of society.

But come to think of it, music lovers expressed similar fears every time the “New Sound” came out of our radios. Like when Bob Dylan electrified and horrified the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival the summer of 1965. Much like the world was different before computers and AI came along, the world of folk music considered Dylan one of their Gods and for him to come out and blast a Fender guitar at a crowd expecting acoustic music was a paradigm shift they weren’t expecting. Now it feels life has had the same type of shift after the internet, The Cloud and AI have become part of our daily routines. It’s not what we are used to, and therefore we aren’t sure it’s what we want. (Here is a link to that fateful performane of Dylans at the Newport Folk Festival)

You may have heard about Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg being at odds about AI and its role in our lives. If two guys that know all about computers can’t agree on what’s good or evil about AI, then how the hell are we supposed to understand it enough to sleep soundly at night?

For novices like me, learning about computers, AI and robots is a bit like religion: you must have faith that it will all work out as it was intended by the folks who unleashed it upon mankind.