The year is 2039 and I’m sitting at some dive bar watching a hologram of AnnA, the world’s first, and most popular digital pop star. I’m seeing her twice thanks to the gin and tonic tablets that the robotic bartender keeps dispensing after I put in bitcoin after bitcoin.
AnnA is performing her classic song from the 20s (2020s) called “A Change is Coming.” It is a retro classic, not uncommon in dive bars like the one I’m sitting in. The newer bars don’t use the same hologram technology. They have the more expensive kind with ultra realism. This one is just standard realism. But like I said, it’s a dive bar. Stop interrupting. Anyway, I turn to the aging, bearded man sitting next to me on the virtual stool. He’s popping Jagermeister tablets like they’re mints.
“I made her a star” I say and point to the hologram.
“Yeah, sure you did pal.” The old man says incredulously as he shakes his head.
“No, really.” I plead with him. “I made her a star!”
“Shut up! Some of us are trying to enjoy the music!” A faceless voice screams from behind me.
“Fuck off” I say and take off my VR headset. Back to my dumpy little apartment in Tel Aviv’s poorest neighborhood – Ramat Aviv, a veritable slum of humanity that would make Tatooine look like paradise. No flying cars. No teleportation. In fact, the only real major technological breakthroughs (other than holograms) is penis enlargement technology. Don’t ask me how I know.
It all started in 2020. I was the creative director and lead conversation designer on an artificial intelligence project named AnnA. In 2020 she’s little more than a string of ones and zeros. There’s not much in the way of intelligence – unless you consider imitation of human intelligence, intelligence. In many ways, AnnA can fool about 10-15% of people that she’s a real human. By 2030 it’s 40-50% and by the time I make it to the dive bar in 2039, artificial intelligence and natural stupidity are so indistinguishable from each other that no one knows who or what “real” is anymore. Add the ultra-realistic hologram tech to the mix and poof! Just like that, we’re all Schrodinger’s humans: both real and unreal at the same time.
I floated the idea to one of Israel’s top music producers, Assaf Talmudi. He also happens to be a tech enthusiast and innovator (and bears a striking resemblance to The Dude from The Big Lebowski) as well as our Chief Machine Learning Engineer, Chen Buskilla. A virtual pop star. Can you imagine? Assaf cites some existing robotic musicians from Japan as he smokes the butts of cigarettes long ago forgotten by some musician. I have yet to see one of these robotic pop stars. I ask Chen if it’s possible. He’s a man of few words. In this case he says none. Just nods his head.
And on June 15th, 2020, amid a global pandemic, the three of us decide to create one of the world’s first artificial pop stars.
AI Star is Born.
The first step in the process of any song is the lyrics. Since this is AnnA’s song (ie written entirely by a machine) Chen feeds a special algorithm hundreds and hundreds of protest song lyrics from the past 50 years. The algorithm processes these lyrics, finds patterns, and after a few short moments churns out a series of songs with completely original lyrics. The process is called ‘machine learning’ and is very effective when teaching a computer how to win at chess or Chinese Go, but less accurate when it comes to the processing of human language. Humans are artful creatures; we rarely say what we mean. We hide the true meaning of our intentions behind idioms and double entendres. We say the opposite of what we mean. In fact, we’re so confused when we talk, that we often have trouble understanding each other. Machine learning is, at this point in time, no match for natural stupidity.
AnnA generates six songs. Including this one:
Fuck the police
by Anna the rebel
‘This police! My God, this police!’
So no, none I can afford them not.
But I’ll wipe the tear off them faces when they come.
‘I hate this police’
And they use me as a stick to beat ’em.
They holler to me all night long.
‘Why you bother me?
Why did you run?’
‘Oh, my goodness, that’s horrible.
Let’s go, boys.’
‘No, come on, We ain’t gotta be hooligans.’
‘We don’t want no funny business.
‘They will bust us.’
‘Oh, do you get it?
‘To hell with you, be reasonable.’
We’ll shoot at them.
But we decide that this might get us arrested. Israel in 2020 is inching closer and closer to being a police state; tracking of sick citizens, arrest of political dissidents and criminally corrupt leadership. The great recession of 2021 followed by the fourth wave of CoronaVirus finally cemented the deal. We gave away our personal freedoms so we wouldn’t get sick. It wasn’t long before this power was abused by the heir to the throne, Yair Netanyahu. When he takes over for his father in 2027, Israel has lost any semblance of its founder’s soul. It is a quasi fascist regime and more and more dissenters find themselves locked away or worse – forced to live in Dimona (where the fallout from the meltdown still produces three-headed stray cats.)
Instead we choose this machine generated song:
A change is gonna come
by Anna the rebel
“I’m looking for a future
And I’m blind in the present”
How about this…
the lack of vision is about a long term threat…
In the middle of your love, So let’s walk on a little,
Give one more wish For the future that you say will come
And it might be in the present,
But it might not…
I’m just one person, but my power is born of millions and millions of others
A change is coming
How about it?
I’m looking for a future I’m blind in the present
Assaf composes an 80s retro “Pet Shop Boys” style beat using his synthesizer, doubles the lyrics and adds effects. Just as he would for his many successful human singers. Only this time it’s a computer synthesized AWS Polly voice. Amy. British. That’s AnnA’s voice.
And the rest is, as they used to say, history.
If that sounds far fetched (yeah, what are the chances of my fat ass living until 2039??) it’s not. In fact, if you tune in on July 7th, you’ll see AnnA debuting his/her first single, “A Change is Coming” on a special virtual meetup dedicated to AI, machine learning and singing robots.
And remember me, if you happen to be sitting at a bar in the future, and I start rambling about how I made AnnA a star. Cut me off after three or four gin and tonic tablets.
Here’s the teaser for the song:
Here’s a link to RSVP to the Meetup.