When we listen to an mp3—or a CD track, a mix tape, a record, even a wax cylinder—we’re conjuring up the sound of a past performance. Now there’s a new computer program that does the reverse, sort of: It takes an audio file and creates a piano-playing cartoon, using sound (or related bits of information) to animate a performance anew.
The fingers of an expert pianist look relaxed as they tickle the ivories, never seeming overexerted or out of place. The computer program is designed to work on the same principle: It “listens to” a midi file and decides how the cartoon should finger each chord in order to put out the least possible effort. In addition to telling the active fingers which keys to press down, it also decides what to do with the idle fingers so that they are optimally relaxed and poised to play their next notes. Looking this at ease is a lot of work.
Meet Emily Howell. She’s a composer who is about to have a CD released of sonatas she composed. So what makes her unique?
She’s a computer program.
Emily was created by University of California-Santa Cruz professor David Cope, who claims to be more of a music teacher than a computer scientist (he’s both). Cope has been working on combining artificial intelligence with music for 30 years—thereby challenging the idea that creating music should be limited to the human mind.
Prior to Emily, Cope created a program called Experiments in Musical Intelligence (EMI). It allowed the user to pick a composer like Mozart or Bach, then EMI would analyze the music and spit out a new piece that sounded like it had been created by the same composer. But the music EMI “wrote” still needed performers to play it—many of whom refused to perform music that hadn’t been written by a human.
Is there anything that will make people stop speeding for good? Transport of London has come up with a new technology that they hope will do the trick—both to stop speeding and reduce accidents. It’s called Intelligent Speed Adaptation, and it’s a program installed in cars as a kind of auto big brother: If the car is going too fast, the computer will automatically reduce the speed.
This summer, a total of twenty vehicles, including cars, buses, and cabs, will be testing the new software. Each vehicle will receive a monitor that displays a digital map of the city, corresponding speed limits, and a GPS system, so the program can calculate how fast the car should be going based on its real-time location.