Creative acts are one of the human race’s defining characteristics. The ability to turn thoughts into music or art or literature for the purposes of self expression has always helped to separate us from less-sophisticated species.
But computers are catching up.
The consulting firm Accenture recently commissioned an original symphony composed with creative input from both human musicians and artificial intelligence software. “Symphonologie, the Music of Business” was performed live Tuesday by a 50-piece orchestra in the famous Louvre museum in Paris.
Symphonologie’s blend of human creativity and technical ingenuity is not a first, but it speaks to a future in art and music in which technology is not merely a creative tool, but an active participant in the creative process.
Accenture tapped New York City-based programmer Hannah Davis to parse through 220,000 words from business publications about how technology is disrupting the modern workplace. Software she developed as a graduate student, called TransProse, assessed the sentiment behind those words using a database called the Word-Emotion Association Lexicon. Trust, anticipation and fear were the most common emotions, she found.
The software then proposed melodic patterns to match the sentiments of the text, and Davis was able to manipulate features of the music, such as the octaves or tempo. A French composer named Mathieu Lamboley then wove those musical threads into a cohesive, eight-minute symphony.
“This project was more of a collaboration between humans and computers,” Davis said. “People are a little bit nervous to do that kind of thing, especially when it comes to art creation. To me, it’s not something to be scared of.”
A data visual display featuring words, such as “robotics,” “cloud” and “mobile,” swirled across a large screen above the musicians’ heads as they played. It was developed by a graphic artist with the assistance of technology.
If Symphonologie seems like a publicity ploy, well, that’s because it is. Accenture is not ordinarily in the business of composing classical music and performing it in French museums. The consulting firm hopes clients see the symphony and its combination of technology and artistry as a metaphor for the services it offers.
“There is a lot of art in [business]. No two management teams would come up with the same strategy. No two management teams would execute a strategy in the same way,” said Mark Knickrehm, group chief executive at Accenture Strategy.
Read more from The Washington Post’s Innovations section.