Cassette Tape in a tape machine

in Artificial Intelligence, Thoughts

AI Restoration, Ethics and an Unfinished Beatles Song

Imagine a song nearly 50 years in the making, waiting for technology to advance, to finally free a lost voice trapped inside a long-lost tape recording!

John Lennon recorded some rough ideas for a hit song on tape for his friend, Paul McCartney but, tragically, he’d never get to record it properly as his life was cut short. After John’s death, the tape sat in a cupboard until 1994, but the technology of the time couldn’t free his voice from the demo tape as the vocals were merged with the piano meaning his rough idea couldn’t be edited and produced into a polished, releasable song… until now!

Using AI, Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) and his team [who worked on a recent documentary on the Beatles using restored footage] were finally able to separate John’s voice from the piano on the tape which was the final piece needed to finish the song. This was a huge technical accomplishment which shouldn’t be overshadowed – after all it was nearly 50 years in the making. However, this raises some interesting questions. Some critics have said John’s voice isn’t as polished, obviously… because it was recorded as a demo. Although AI was used to separate it, could they have gone further and enhanced John Lennon’s voice with his other recordings? If so, would it still be John Lennon or a computer impression of him instead? Were they right to use the recordings in a song?

I think Ringo, Paul and the producer, Giles Martin have tried to toe a careful line, but it raises an interesting point… when in the editing process does something become so edited it can no longer hold the name of the original? This seems like a modern-day version of the age-old paradox of the ship of Theseus – the ship that gets a part replaced each time it docks until none of the original ship remains.

There are some deeper more emotive questions too. If AI can resurrect you, do you become something of a puppet for other people to control and manipulate? Is it fair to credit you or even sully your name with these creative endeavours post-death? What if AI creates something using a reconstruction of your brain so it can think like you… who should get the credit then?

I feel like as AI becomes more ubiquitous and augments our lives whether we like it or not, we’re going to find out the answers to these questions rather rudely! What do you think? In the meantime, The Beatles have released a short video covering some of the motivations and makings of their final song “Now and Then”. It’s worth a watch!

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