Billie Eilish, Pearl Jam and 200 artists say artificial intelligence poses existential threat to their livelihoods

Billie Eilish attends the 2024 Vanity Fair Presented by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 10, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California Oscar party.
enlarge / Billie Eilish attends the 2024 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on March 10, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California.

On Tuesday, the Artists Rights Alliance (ARA) announced an open letter criticizing artificial intelligence, signed by more than 200 music artists, including Pearl Jam, Nicki Minaj, Billie Eilish, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Costello and the estate of Frank Sinatra. In the letter, the artists called on artificial intelligence developers, technology companies, platforms and digital music services to stop using artificial intelligence to “violate and demean the rights of human artists.” A tweet from the ARA added that artificial intelligence posed an “existential threat” to their art.

After the rise of the first mainstream AI image generators in 2022, visual artists began to protest the emergence of generative AI, and given that generative AI research has been conducted on other forms of creative media, we have already seen the protests expand to other creative field of professionals such as writers, actors, filmmakers, and now musicians.

“If artificial intelligence is used irresponsibly, it poses a huge threat to our ability to protect privacy, identity, music, and livelihoods,” the open letter states. It claims that some of the “largest and most powerful” companies (undisclosed in the letter) Name) is using artists’ work without permission to train artificial intelligence models with the goal of replacing human artists with AI-created content.

In January, Billboard reported that AI research conducted by Google DeepMind trained an unnamed music-generating AI on a large collection of copyrighted music without the artist’s permission. The report may be referring to Google’s Lyria, an artificial intelligence generative model that the company announced in November as a tool to enhance human creativity. The technology has since powered YouTube’s music experiments.

We’ve previously introduced AI music generators that look quite primitive in 2022 and 2023, such as Riffusion, Google’s MusicLM, and Stability AI’s Stable Audio. We also cover open source music sound cloning technology, which is often used to imitate music online. While we have yet to see an AI model capable of generating perfect, fully composed, high-quality music on demand, the quality of the output of music synthesis models has been steadily improving over time.

When considering the potential impact of artificial intelligence on music, it is instructive to remember historical instances where technological innovations first caught the attention of artists. For example, the introduction of synthesizers in the 1960s and 1970s and the emergence of digital sampling in the 1980s faced scrutiny and fear from some in the music industry, but the music industry eventually adjusted.

While we’ve seen the fear of the unknown related to AI over the past year, AI tools have the potential to be integrated into the music production process like any other music production tool or technology that has come before it. It’s also possible that even if this integration comes to fruition, some artists will still be harmed in the process, and the ARA wants to talk about this publicly before the technology advances further.

“Race to the End”

Artists Rights Alliance is a nonprofit advocacy group that describes itself as “a coalition of professional musicians, performers, and songwriters fighting for a healthy creative economy and fair treatment for all creators in the digital world.”

Signatories of the ARA open letter said they recognized the potential of AI to boost human creativity when used responsibly, but they also claimed that replacing artists with generative AI would “significantly dilute the pool of royalties paid to artists,” which could is “disastrous” for many professional musicians, artists and songwriters struggling to make ends meet.

The artists said in their letter that uncontrolled artificial intelligence would create a race to the bottom that would reduce the value of their work and prevent them from receiving fair compensation. “This attack on human creativity must stop,” they wrote. “We must prevent artificial intelligence from being used predatorily to steal the voices and likenesses of professional artists, violate creators’ rights, and disrupt the music ecosystem.”

The emphasis on the word “human” in the letter is noteworthy (“human artist” is used twice, “human creativity” and “human artistry” are used once each) because it hints at what they do between works. Make a clear distinction. It means recognizing that we have entered a new era in which not all creative output is produced by people.

The letter concludes with a call to action, urging all AI developers, technology companies, platforms and digital music services to commit not to develop or deploy AI music generation technology, content or tools that undermine or replace songwriters and human artistry. Provide fair compensation for their work.

While it’s unclear whether the company will meet these demands, protests by visual artists have so far not stopped the development of more advanced image synthesis models. “Unfortunately, this is about as effective as writing an open letter to stop the sun from rising tomorrow,” artificial intelligence industry commentator Dare Obasanjo wrote on Threads.

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