As an Apple fan, I was watching with anticipation when the company announced, in typical grandiose fashion, the HomePod, a smart speaker powered by artificial intelligence (AI) that can send text messages, play music, receive calls and adjust your heating.
Now, the HomePod isn’t the first smart speaker, but when Apple gets involved you can be sure that the industry will be changed forever. Apple’s Smartwatch has only been on sale for two years, and already it’s the most popular watch on the planet.
At £319 I don’t think the HomePod is likely to be a mass market product, and sales aren’t as high as expected. But smart speakers are now the new battleground for technology companies. One in six Americans now own a smart speaker. Even if you don’t, the digital assistants inside them can be found in almost every smartphone. Shout ‘Hey Siri,’ or ‘Okay, Google,’ in a crowded place to hear a cacophony of AI voices answering you.
So, what does this mean for creativity?
Well firstly, I think smart speakers represent a growing trend of robotization. Almost every aspect of our lives is becoming automated, and smart speakers are a natural evolution of this. When you want to send a text, just get the robot to do it for you. And I don’t mean relay a message for them to send, Google is literally working on ways for AI to predict what you want to say, and imitate how you would say it.
Blogger Chris Measures fears that this means human creativity will become redundant, as machines take care of everything for us. By 2025, 40% of jobs will be carried out by robots. I can’t help thinking of the humans in Wall-E.
But despite existential fears for the future of humanity, I think robotization at the moment is more of a help than a hindrance to creative people. A NESTA report found that creative sector jobs are least likely to be threatened by robots. New technology helps creative people, with sophisticated software able to help create more impressive video games, movies and music.
I believe robotization, as it is currently, is much more of a threat to manual labor industries. A 2015 study found that new technology has increased inequality over the last few years, likely for this reason.
But what about if the AI itself starts making music?
Algorithms can look at what music you listen to often and suggest songs you might like. If I ask Siri to play some music, she will play me a personalised radio station, based entirely off what my listening habits suggest I’m into (mostly Africa by Toto).
This has implications for the creative industry all on its own; how will new musicians break into an industry when everyone is stuck in their filter bubbles, listening to genres they already know they will like and not trying anything new?
But it also begs the question, what happens if technology companies decide they may as well cut out the middle man, and have the AI make music themselves, personalised for each user specifically?
Art created by AI has been around since 1973, but I think smart speakers show a new way in which the technology could change the creative industries forever, and perhaps even replace it.
Now, I don’t think artificial intelligence is quite there yet; the tech is unable to understand humour, or truly innovate, stuck remixing old styles fed into its algorithms.
But the technology is getting better all the time, and companies are putting billions into improving them. I don’t think human creativity will ever be fully replaced, but the HomePod is definitely a step in that direction.
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