Opinion

Artificial Intelligence is no match for the human heart

When an artificial intelligence bot, ChatGPT, was asked to write a song in the style of Nick Cave, the artist was less than impressed

Artificial intelligence: a robot playing a keyboard

It turns out that AI can't write a decent tune. Image: Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Nick Cave said something interesting last week. That’s not uncommon. He’s no slouch. On this occasion, he was reacting to a question from a fan. Cave does this a lot on the Red Hand Files, his online repository where he answers any number and range of enquiries from devotees. This one was about artificial intelligence. There is an open access AI bot, ChatGPT, that some people have been playing with to see if it can create as well as a human. Mark, from Christchurch in New Zealand, fired in a load of Cave’s lyrics, got a resulting set of lyrics and sent them to Cave asking for his reaction.

“The apocalypse is well on its way,” said Nick. “This song sucks.”

Nick Cave’s problem with it all is twofold. One, that the march of AI is now unstoppable. It is, he believes, “an emerging horror” that will lead to a “utopian future… or total destruction”. This fear is not new – others have shared it. Not so long ago, Blake -Lemoine, a software engineer, was fired by Google after claiming one of their AI programmes was becoming sentient. Speaking to base fears, it became a global story.

Cave’s biggest issue, and one that really gets to the core of something, is the nature of creation. You can feed as much data into an AI machine as you like, have it crunch through algorithms and make it come up with a version of all that it seeks to create. It could present something that is a bit like Nick Cave, or a bit like a Heaney poem or any number of other immeasurably great things – an infinite number, really. 

But artificial intelligence can’t get to the heart. It can’t, as Cave said, go through the internal human struggle of creation. It is destined to imitate, but never get to the real moment.

Our use of data in itself is useful, increasingly so. Gathered data can tell us how inflation is galloping, where ambulances are most likely to be delayed and how many people this will impact. In the future, artificial intelligence will help more with medical procedures or fix satellites in orbit to make our earthbound activities function better.

And there will be an increase in pieces of research and tests here and there to see if people can tell the difference between human-created art, or literature or music, and that from the binary blinks of a machine.

Ultimately we can find it. In music, particularly, the difference will be clear. Our brain on music, to steal Daniel Levitin’s phrase, senses what we cannot quite articulate. It is the strange gap in the silences, a moment as the notes change and our emotions follow, the sensation that somebody has crystallised and memorialised something extraordinary that will forever mean a complex set of things and leave us completely changed. As Nick Cave says, it’s the redemptive artistic act that stirs the heart of the listener. 

It can strike at the least expected moment. I was in a taxi last week and the driver was listening to a live version of James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful. This is a song that frequently provokes a very strong, usually negative, response in people. On this early-morning drive, as we headed south through a darkened and cold Glasgow, the driver started to sing along. Not loud, not showy, not tongue in cheek. He just sang to this song, and every now and again he got a -little emotional. It was a barely perceptible reaction, but I noticed it. And so this song, which has become a byword for all that is hackneyed, took on a whole new meaning. At the end of the trip I didn’t know what to say or do – do I congratulate him, smile beatifically, tell him he’s a great singer? I got out and said thanks. 

We’re in a time when there is something in the air, a change, or foreboding, or a long-needed correction.

Part of that, it seems, is seeing a James Blunt song in an immeasurably different way because a stranger in a taxi found his heart forever stirred. And why not?

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
How a dreary trip to a travel agent became an escapade of exotic birds and celebrity musicians
A parrot
Sam Delaney

How a dreary trip to a travel agent became an escapade of exotic birds and celebrity musicians

Tories want to paint disabled people as 'benefit cheats'. Is Labour really any better?
Mikey Erhardt

Tories want to paint disabled people as 'benefit cheats'. Is Labour really any better?

We can make the four-day working week a reality – and make it work for everyone. Here's how
Andrew Fennell

We can make the four-day working week a reality – and make it work for everyone. Here's how

We took the Home Office to task for lying on modern slavery. We still don’t have answers
car washes have been highlighted as modern slavery hotspots
MAYA ESSLEMONT

We took the Home Office to task for lying on modern slavery. We still don’t have answers

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know