Note — Oct 17, 2021

The Intelligence of Bodies

The independent online classical music magazine VAN asked the composer and writer Jan Swafford to listen to an artificial-intelligence-created realization of Beethoven’s unfinished Tenth Symphony and give his opinion. Lots of the essay is the habitual ‘AI can’t ever do this’ and part of it is inside baseball for classical music. Some years ago this might have been a ‘rap is not music’ essay. And yet, Swafford does go above the usual ‘computers can’t be creative’ by qualifying it further: “The only true, meaningful intelligence is in a body, and likewise the only true and meaningful creativity,” while also pointing to failure, drive, and emotions. Which is certainly a more useful reflection, not whether AIs can do something, but whether what they do will draw our interest as much as a human’s art can.

My main reason for including it though is that it’s another consideration of AI vs genius or champion. I’ve written about the model for just enough and I’m increasingly of the opinion that there’s also a ‘good enough.’ As I’ve mentioned in the past, “most people are quite satisfied with good enough and perhaps good enough doesn’t need that much ‘uniquely human’ creativity.” Lots of what AI ends up doing will be in that space, it will be a while (if ever) before there’s an artificial Beethoven or Prince or Bowie, a while before your favourite editorialist is out of a job (well, not for this reason anyway), and a while before Verne or Butler are supplanted, but there will certainly be good enough AIs for the random pop radio station, elevator muzak, romance novel, or sports roundup.

When it comes to art, we need to see a woman or a man struggling with the universal mediocrity that is the natural lot of all of us and somehow out of some mélange of talent, skill, and luck doing the impossible, making something happen that is splendid and moving—or funny, or frightening, or whatever the artist set out to do. […]
Along with all that and maybe above all that, the gnawing and relentless drive to do something really good, this time, for all the above reasons and more, whether it’s trying to convince the woman to love you, or the public or God to love you, and/or to pay the rent, and to show yourself that you can damned well do something at least in the direction of really good in this possibly cursed endeavor that you believe you’ve been born to do, and without which your life is something in the direction of meaningless.