The rise of AI-assisted art raises questions of authorship

With artificial intelligence finding its way into the world of music, literature and art, the technology’s potential new applications are raising never-before-considered questions about a creators’ role.

A team led by Shigeki Sagayama, professor of mathematical engineering and information physics at Meiji University, has created software that automatically composes a melody to accompany any lyric it is given.

Available for use online, the automatic composition software, named Orpheus, has produced hundreds of thousands of pieces of music since its launch in 2007.

Sagayama has developed a method to produce melodies based on the cadence of the Japanese language. He said AI works well in the field of music composition as music’s established theories, rules and systems, such as harmonics, make programming feasible.

Orpheus users can set parameters to their personal preferences, ensuring various aspects like pitch and beat patterns reflect the character of the music they wish to produce, he said.

However, music is by no means AI’s final frontier, as proved by a team of researchers from Nagoya University, led by engineering professor Satoshi Sato.

The group caused a sensation in 2015 when a novel written by its AI technology made it past the first round of a literary competition.

To write the book, the software created sentences based on a programmed plot, and then in 2016 the next iteration of the system made “a step forward,” said Sato, as it created the plot as well.

The use of AI in creative endeavors has raised questions about intellectual property. Who owns a piece of art if it was, at least in part, created using AI?

Sagayama says music produced with Orpheus cannot “belong” to the program because the system is no more than “a tool for composition.”

The copyright question has also come to the attention of a government panel of experts on intellectual property rights.

A member of the panel, Tatsuhiro Ueno, professor of law at Waseda University, said under the existing law there is no copyright on AI-made art.

Ueno, however, said there is only a vague distinction between something made by a human alone, and something made with AI assistance.

It should be determined by knowing “how extensively humans are involved,” he said.

“The concept of authors (or composers or artists) may become less important,” Tama Art University professor Akihiro Kubota said, foreshadowing what he thinks will be a range of new art forms created through human-AI collaborations.

Kubota and his team developed one such example of new thinking when they sent a microsatellite into space where AI software carried by the spacecraft composed music and poems based on temperature and other data collected.

Once the AI-created compositions were transferred from orbit to Earth, Kubota oversaw a project to translate them into sculpture, a perfect example of what he thinks is AI’s ability to “enhance the creativity of humans.”

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