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This robot can compose entirely new music, but does that make it creative?

Accounting, taxi driving, modelling: Around 50% of jobs are going to be taken by robots in the next twenty years, if this 2013 Oxford University study (pdf) is to be believed. If you’re creative, however, your job might be more secure. Creativity and originality are really hard to mimic.

Researchers at Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology are challenging that belief with Shimon, a robot that can compose new melodies. His name is from the Hebrew word shama, meaning “to hear.” Loaded with a database of classical and jazz music, plus a couple of pop songs thrown in for good measure, Shimon is able to learn how songs are put together by understanding the relationship between notes. Given a little bit of inspiration in the form of a few bars of music, the four-armed bot can create an entirely new melody.

Composers, don’t quiver in fear right yet. According to the the website Will Robots Take my Job, which calculates how vulnerable jobs are to automation, there’s a minuscule chance robots will be replacing you any time soon. That’s because whether Shimon is actually “creative” is debatable.

On the one hand, he’s creating something new by composing music. On the other hand, Shimon might not pass the Lovelace test (pdf). Like the Turing test except for creativity, not intelligence, the Lovelace test suggests a truly creative machine is one that can create outcomes that its designers can’t explain. Originality, then, is perhaps a little different from creativity. “We still have some work and some research to do before we get to a truly creative autonomous machine,” Shimon’s designer, Mason Bretan, says.

Still, Shimon’s abilities are a huge step in the direction of creative machines. A year ago Shimon was able to jam along with musicians, improvising as they played. Now he’s making his own music.

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