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Totally fake AI Bowie song portends a scary future

Modern technology gives me access to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald about modern technology (click on the title to link to the story). The story is about AI generated music, building off attention to an AI-generated song made to sound like it was from Drake. So the story’s author wanted to see what AI could do with Bowie— he asked a program to generate a Bowie song (and video) about going through a fast-food drive through. The video linked to this post is the eerie result.

I’ve posted AI-generated videos accompanying genuine Bowie songs before. Also, I think I’ve been taken once or twice by Bowie impersonators (see “My Way”). This is something else. Not only does the voice sound like Bowie, it sounds like Bowie from a particular era (the early 70s). The images are still cartoony, the lyrics are (intentionally) insipid and the music itself is generic, but the voice sounds like Bowie.

So what? If I like the sound of Bowie’s voice and always wanted to hear him sing me “Happy Birthday,” why not use the technology? I’m not sure I have a good answer as to why not. That said, I can imagine a future where the artist’s genuine output gets confused with uncanny initiations, and as the fake stuff becomes more prevalent it might be harder for future generations to appreciate Bowie’s really good material. (Same for other artists). Imagine, for instance, if Bowie made 20 albums like Tonight and Never Let Me Down and somewhere in the mix also released “Life on Mars?” Would anyone recognize that song as a work of genius? Would anyone notice the song at all? If we are years (or months) away from songs-to-order, it might be tough to recognize what made us want to imitate Bowie in the first place.

At the same time, I’m not so sure. Bowie is one of the most chronicled rock musicians ever. In a way, the rise of AI makes, well, something like this blog more valuable (valuable? Useful? I won’t say, important). The future might make it tougher to distinguish a genuine bootleg from a fake, but the main works of artists of significant enough stature should be safe. And artists of less stature will provide less incentive for imitation.

But who knows. A better future? Hunger City? Bowie mostly had a pessimistic view of the future, at least in most of his songs that addressed the topic, but time will tell. At this point, we have an idea of the possible, we just don’t know how it’s going to be used.

And, as soon as I can, I will place an order for Bowie singing me “Happy Birthday.”

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