Are Computers Ready to Replace DJs?


The recent story about an academic contest at Dartmouth College seems like the sort of thing that probably fills Kraftwerk‘s dreams at night. The aim is to determine whether computers can create art as convincingly as humans. And in addition to portions of the challenge devoted to the literary and visual arts, there will be one dedicated to pursuing the possibility of a computer putting together its own DJ set. In the words of Dan Rockmore, director of the school’s Neukom Institute for Computational Science, “Historically, often when we have advances in artificial intelligence, people will always say, ‘Well, a computer couldn’t paint a sunset,’ or ‘a computer couldn’t write a beautiful love sonnet,’ but could they? That’s the question.”

Actually the question is not whether computers are capable of being DJs, but whether the difference between a human DJ and a computerized one is discernible to human ears. That’s what will really be judged over the course of the contest, as people are challenged to identify which is which. The process will take place over the course of the next school year, and prizes will be given out in April. For the music portion of the contest, there will be six computerized finalists featured in a showdown with flesh-and-blood DJs in a real-time dance party. The winner walks out with $3,000. (And maybe a contract with Kompakt Records?)

Jim Allen

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