Sony’s A.I. Bots Wrote Us a Beatles Song About Driving

The horror.

byMax Prince|
Culture photo

Back in June, an NYU researcher programmed his A.I. bot to write a science fiction screenplay. The resulting short film, called Sunspring, was suitably bizarre. The computer picked up on numerous genre tropes, but, unsurprisingly, struggled to maintain coherent dialogue and dramatic pacing. From this, we learned A.I. algorithms, while fast advancing, are still a while from self-creating a motion picture. But a catchy, three-minute pop song…

That’s the latest project from Sony’s CSL Research Laboratory. The team fed its in-house A.I. music software, Flow Machines, over 13,000 leadsheets (read: melody and harmony notes) from varying genres, from jazz and pop to Broadway tunes. The system analyzed them, and, employing “unique combinations of style transfer, optimization and interaction techniques,” learned to create music in various styles. In tandem with two other systems, FlowComposer and Rechord, the user simply selects a style of music and, boom, the A.I. spits out a leadsheet. The machine’s first pop song? It’s a track called “Daddy’s Car,” generated in the computer-learned style of The Beatles.

It sounds, well, like something The Beatles would write, had they no creativity, talent, soul or purpose. But it gets weirder. Sony had a human composer, Benoît Carré, arrange and produce the song, and write the lyrics. Carré, who has previously worked with Françoise Hardy, is very talented and also very French. Because the vocals are delivered in English, presumably via some kind of translating software, the lines don’t always sit quite right. (Selections: “Good day sunshine in the back seat car / I wish that road could never stop”; “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun / Please mother drive, and then play it again.”) So, like the score itself, the lyrics about driving, though written by a person, ring oddly robotic. Combined with A.I. interpretations of John, Paul, George and Ringo, it all makes for a distressing—and somewhat terrifying—piece of quote-unquote music. The creepy factor here is pretty extreme. 

Sony says “Daddy’s Car” will appear on an all-A.I. pop album, which is set to arrive next year. Singularity, sentience, human enslavement and etc., to follow soon after.